A British coach driver was arrested in France yesterday after a bus carrying children returning to Worcestershire from a half-term skiing trip careered off a motorway, killing a teacher and injuring 23 others.
The bus, carrying 29 pupils and 18 adults from a middle school in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, crashed though a barrier and overturned. The accident happened near Châlons-en-Champagne at 3am as the children returned from a holiday in Italy.
The teacher was named as Peter Rippington, 59. The ski trip was to have been his last before he retired. His wife, Sharon, was seriously injured while their daughter, Amy, had minor injuries. A 13-year-old girl was in critical condition. The driver was treated for minor injuries and then arrested by police as they investigated what caused the coach to leave the road in good conditions.
Witnesses said the bus veered to the right, before demolishing a safety barrier and coming to rest on its side in a large ditch. Tour operators, Interski, said the driver had tested negative for drink or drugs. The "most likely working theory" is that he fell asleep at the wheel, a police spokesman said.
French police said a 13-year-old girl remained in critical condition but her life was no longer in danger after she was flown to the Necker children's hospital in Paris for an emergency operation. Four others, including three children, were also seriously injured.
The remainder escaped with cuts and bruises. Hundreds of messages of support have been left on Twitter for a schoolgirl named Suzie who was said to be seriously injured. Tributes were paid to Mr Rippington, 59, who was known fondly to pupils as "Mr Ripps".
His family said last night: "We, as a family, are devastated at the tragic loss of Peter, a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher. We are still extremely concerned about the health of his wife, Sharon, who was injured and is still recovering in hospital in France."
Hereim Goode, whose son, Keiron, 12, was on a second coach, following closely behind the first, said of Mr Rippington: "Everybody loved him, he had been teaching in Alvechurch all his life."