2 die in school coach plunge

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The Independent Online
A school was in mourning last night after two British teenagers on a trip abroad were killed when their coach plunged into a ravine in the French Alps.

David Bowes, headmaster of St James's Church of England grant-maintained secondary school, in Farnworth, Bolton, broke the news of the tragedy to shocked parents yesterday before calling a special assembly to tell his pupils.

Nicola Moore, 16, was killed when the bus she was on plummeted more than 60 feet from a narrow road between the villages of Notre-Dame du Pre and Longefoy. A 14-year-old boy, Robert Boardman, died later as he underwent emergency surgery. His best friend, Keith Riddings, also 14, remained seriously ill last night in hospital in Grenoble.

Parents of the dead and injured were on their way to France yesterday, while the school will stay closed today.

Nicola's mother Sue, who works at the school, said last night: "Nicola is all over this house. She was a ray of sunshine."

Mr Bowes said members of staff at the school sent their deepest sympathies to the bereaved families. "We share their grief. The whole school is very shocked."

"Nicola would have been doing her GCSEs next year. She was in the top sets for everything. Staff knew her as a quiet but very cheerful girl."

He said Robert Boardman "was a lovely, caring and considerate boy. He was very conscientious and reliable".

Pupils were flung from the coach when it ran off a mountain road on a bend at 9.15am, about 15 miles from where they had been staying in Peisey- Nancroix. The cause of the crash was not known.

The more seriously injured were taken to hospitals in the region by helicopter while others were taken by road.

Last night, 11 people were still being treated in Moutiers, including a 33-year-old female teacher and a 24-year-old man.

Another 10 members of the party were in hospital at Bourg-St Maurice. None was badly injured, although a hospital spokesman said the children were very upset. "I think most of the children will be released soon. The bus was on a very dangerous road and fell around 20 metres," the spokesman said.

Both sides of the House of Commons joined yesterday in mourning the deaths of the two teenagers. David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, departed from the text of his statement on the Government's White Paper on school standards to express his sorrow. "I think we would all wish to send our best wishes and condolences to them," he told the Commons.

Stephen Dorrell, his Tory shadow, added his sympathy.

The group was part of a party of 41 pupils and five staff on a "curriculum enhancement week" which involved white- water rafting and mountain biking. The pupils on the coach had been travelling to take part in a water-skiing day when it crashed.

The party travelled to France last week; another school group is in the Netherlands.

David Vicarage, the former chair of school governors and a parent, said the 900-pupil school was a close community and that this would help them cope with the tragedy. But he added: "It really is quite a dreadful situation ... only time will help us sort it out.

"The staff and school have galvanised themselves into action to deal with this as best they possibly can. We have an awful lot of shocked parents at the school."

The Rev Lindsay Owens, who was chaplain at the school until recently, immediately went there to offer support to the staff as well as to the children.

"St James's is one big happy family. That is the strength of the school and any death is like losing a member of the family. I have offered my services as a counsellor to staff, parents and children."

The area of France which the Bolton party was visiting has become increasingly popular with schools in recent years.

A spokesman for the Ski Club of Great Britain said: "School visits to this area and to other mountain regions in Europe really get going in the last two weeks of July and then throughout August."

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