Five Britons killed in lorry crash

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The Independent Online
Five Britons have died in a head-on crash with an articulated lorry in Swaziland, southern Africa.

The five - Dr Jackie Ford, Dr Catherine Hulme, Lucy Tringham, Deborah Townsend and David Whittaker all worked at a hospital in the South African province of Natal near the border with Swaziland, said a Foreign Office spokesman. He added: "They were on some sort of medical attachment to help out the hospital."

Dr Ford is from Hemel Hempstead; Ms Tringham and Ms Townsend are students at Bristol University; Mr Whittaker is a student at University College Hospital, London; and Dr Hulme had just qualified from Birmingham University.

The group was heading for a weekend break in Swaziland when the accident happened on Friday evening.

According to reports in the Mercury, a Durban-based newspaper, Mr Whittaker had arrived in South Africa on the day of the crash, and the other two students had been in the country for only two weeks.

Dr Ford had been working at the 230-bed Bethesda rural community hospital in the small town of Ubombo for some time. Dr Hulme joined her there six weeks ago.

The crash happened near the town of Lavumisa, Swaziland, on Friday evening, when a lorry went out of control, the newspaper said. Because the crash was in such a remote location, police did not reach the scene until the early hours of Saturday.

Hospital superintendent Dr Jonathan Pons said staff were "in shock" over the tragedy. He added that hospitals such as his depended on "young and selfless" doctors and medical staff from overseas: "As rural hospitals we battle to attract South African doctors because of the poor service conditions, so many of our personnel are newly-qualified doctors from other countries, especially Britain."

Helen Pons, also from the hospital, added: "It was to have been a lovely break for them, I can't believe it's ended in such tragedy. The atmosphere here is very sombre. We are all walking around in a daze.

"They were all lovely people and our hearts go out to their families at a terrible time like this. It's a devastating blow to the hospital. They were doing vital work here. We only had six doctors and now two have been killed."

The victims' families were believed to be making arrangements to travel to South Africa.