and WILL BENNETT
A day out for a coach party, many of them former psychiatric patients, ended in disaster yesterday when the vehicle crashed killing eight people and injuring 33 others.
The coach involved in the accident was not fitted with seat belts and some of those who died were thrown through windows and crushed as the vehicle rolled over on a roundabout at Raglan, near Monmouth, Gwent, South Wales. The crash was the latest in a series of major accidents and last night safety campaigners renewed their calls for the compulsory fitting of seat belts in all coaches and minibuses and for roofs to be strengthened.
Eyewitnesses said that the coach, which was on its way from Aberdare, Mid Glamorgan, to Stratford-on-Avon for a day's sightseeing, was travelling fast when it went out of control, clipped a kerb and overturned on a roundabout. Stephen Smith, from Blackheath, West Midlands, said: "The coach looked to be going pretty quickly when it approached the roundabout. I saw it hit the kerb and start to go over on its side. I lost sight of it then as it ploughed into the trees on the roundabout island. Then there was a bang and a cloud of dust."
Rescuers described screaming victims trapped in the wreckage. John Crump, supervisor of a gang of road workers, said: "It just didn't look like a coach."
Cpl Marty Hall, an instructor with a party of Royal Engineers driving past, said: "We tried to help those trapped but some died as we looked on. Others were walking over bodies to try to get out while some were so shocked they didn't move."
Firemen took more than two hours to cut the injured free. The driver, Phil Crisp, and 32 passengers were taken to hospitals in Abergavenny and Newport. Twenty-two were seriously hurt but last night all were said to be off the danger list.
Mr Crisp, 30, has been a coach driver for six years but was on his first week working for Lewis Coaches, Aberdare, owners of the seven-year-old vehicle. His wife Claire and son Tristan, 2, were among the passengers. All three were injured but survived.
Many of the passengers were from the St David's Day Centre in Aberdare which helps look after people recently released from psychiatric hospitals or undergoing treatment for mental illness and at least four staff were on the trip with relatives. Most of the rest came from other day centres and old people's homes in the Cynon Valley and passengers' ages ranged from two to over 70. The names of the dead were not released yesterday but no children were thought to be among them.
The accident came a day after 75 people were injured when two coaches crashed in North Wales, and less than two months after the M4 crash in which 13 members of the Royal British Legion were killed. There were immediate calls for compulsory safety belts. The Consumers' Association said: "The tragedy today is yet another example of why life saving seat belts must be fitted urgently in all coaches and minibuses."
The Department of Transport said that compulsory seat belts for coaches carrying children would be introduced next year but that legislation to insist on them in all such vehicles would have to await agreement by the European Union.
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