British Tourist Bus Flips in France, Killing 11, Injuring 61
AUXERRE, France (AP) _ A speeding British doubledecker bus taking vacationers home from Spain burst a tire Sunday and flipped over along a French highway, killing 11 people and injuring 61, police said.
A French official said the bus driver was going 78 mph at the time of the crash.
The blowout happened along the main north-south highway, police said. The bus swerved into a ditch, tumbled onto its side and slid more than 300 feet before coming to rest in a wheat field.
Police said many of those who died were hurled from the vehicle. A trail of suitcases, handbags and personal belongings littered the roadside.
″Several bodies were trapped under the bus,″ said an off-duty police officer who witnessed the accident. ″We saw them through the windows but couldn’t do anything.″
″All of a sudden, there was a big bang,″ said passenger Samantha Howes, 17, of Wordsley in central England, from her hospital bed. ″The coach veered off the motorway, started to keel over. It was chaos. Everyone was running around screaming, crying.″
Dozens of rescue workers used cranes and other heavy equipment to lift the smashed bus in a four-hour operation to extract survivors.
At least 22 people were reported in serious condition; 39 suffered minor injuries. Helicopters and ambulances carried them to hospitals in Auxerre, 100 miles south of Paris, and nearby Sens, Joigny and Montargis.
″All those in the front were either killed or badly knocked about,″ said passenger Norman Wood.
Another passenger said the bus looked as though it had been ″torn apart by a bomb.″
The British Foreign Office said the bus was carrying 69 passengers, six guides and the driver. British authorities confirmed that several children were on board but could not supply a precise figure.
Most of the tourists were from the Midlands or Liverpool in Britain, police said.
The tourists were returning from holiday resorts along Spain’s Mediterranean coast, said British Consul-General James Daly. French officials said the bus was bound for Birmingham.
Secretary of State for Transport Georges Sarre of France said the driver, who was seriously injured in the crash, was traveling at 78 mph, 22 mph above the speed limit. Sarre said the high speed made the accident worse than it would have been otherwise.
The British Department of Transport sent two engineers to France to help with the investigation.
The bus company, Montego European Travel of Wetley Rocks, Staffordshire, England, started business in April with two buses. Montego leased them to Pineda Holidays of Telford.
Linda Baddeley, one of the Montego European Travel’s three directors, said the bus involved in Sunday’s crash was ″absolutely roadworthy″ and had been inspected recently.
It was the worst bus accident in France since July 30, 1982, when 53 people were killed when their tourist bus caught fire in a chain-reaction collision near Beaune in southern France.