Last-minute decision led two friends to take fatal coach trip

A LAST-MINUTE change of plan by two widows proved fatal when they decided to take a South African tour instead of going to New Zealand, it was revealed yesterday. Both were among the 27 who died when their coach careered off a mountain pass on Monday.

Josephine Shorey, 82, and Valerie Leigh, 67, had been travelling companions since they met at a farmers' wives group at Frome, Somerset, 10 years ago, visiting locations from the Far East to Hawaii.

John Hawkins, Josephine's son-in-law, said yesterday that the family was distraught at the news of her death. "They had a whale of a time together and really enjoyed their travelling," he said from his Mendip farm.

Their travels had taken them to Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, America, Bali, Hawaii, Egypt and the Canary Islands. Josephine lived in the village of Emborough near Frome, 10 miles from Valerie - who had no children or relatives - in Rode.

British consular officials yesterday continued the task of identifying bodies at Lydenburg Hospital using passports.It is expected to take several days to confirm the names of all the dead.

Crash investigators began to study data from the electronic recorder on the coach. A suggestion that it may have been travelling too fast came yesterday from a local motorist, who said he had seen it speeding, apparently out of control, earlier on the day it crashed. Nico Krugl said he saw the bus swerve across the road close to his hometown of Hazyview, 40 miles from Long Tom Pass where the accident occurred.

Mr Krugl told Johannesburg newspaper The Star: "It was swerving and going over the white line at high speed. When I heard of the accident, I knew it was the same bus I had seen early in the morning."

South African police have refused to rule out manslaughter charges against the driver, Titus Dube, 41, who survived with spinal fractures and is being treated at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg.

Among other survivors being treated there were Mr Dennis Dryden, 72, from Surrey, with a fractured pelvis, who was "not doing so well", said the hospital. The remaining five were said to be in a stable condition. Some may be ready to return to Britain in the next few days. Three passengers - the tour manager and two tourists - remain in critical condition in Nelspruit Private Hospital. One of them, a woman, had still not been identified.

The condition of tour manager Caroline Sandover, 45, from Oxted, Surrey, deteriorated yesterday after treatment for brain injuries.