Marines injured in coach crash on icy road

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A coach carrying 29 Royal Marines bound for Afghanistan skidded off an icy road into a tree, leaving six injured - one seriously, the Ministry of Defence said today.

The troops from 42 Commando in Plymouth were heading for RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire when the coach ploughed into a snow-filled ditch and hit the tree south east of Cheltenham.

The marine who was driving, a 39-year-old man from Plymouth, is being treated at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital for serious injuries, believed to be head wounds, following the collision at 5.22am.

He had to be cut free from the coach operated by Target Travel, which came off the road on the A40 at Puesdown.

Four of the men, aged between 20 and their mid-30s, were taken to Cheltenham General Hospital with what police described as "relatively minor" injuries. Those are concussion, cuts and bruises. A fifth man, aged 27, was also treated for minor injuries at the scene.

The remaining personnel on the coach were taken to a nearby pub where they were checked by a doctor and continued on their way.

Gloucestershire police received reports of more than 60 collisions between 10pm yesterday and 9am today, due to the icy conditions.

The injuries to three of the men were originally assessed as critical by ambulance staff.

Ministry of Defence spokesman Paul Leat said: "We can confirm that there was a road traffic accident in Gloucestershire earlier this morning involving one civilian coach carrying 29 Royal Marines.

"There were no fatalities. Six Royal Marine personnel are being treated at a local hospital. Five of these are due to be discharged later today and will then return to their unit.

"We are awaiting a further update on the condition of the remaining Royal Marine following a hospital check up. The families of those injured in this incident have been informed. The unit involved was 42 Commando, based in Plymouth, and the personnel were en route to Brize Norton."

Gloucestershire County Council is examining whether the road at Puesdown had been gritted and is due to comment.

Great Western Ambulance Service dispatched several ambulances to the scene, as well as on-call officers and doctors trained in treating roadside trauma.

No other vehicles were involved in the incident, although traffic was severely disrupted.

Just over half an hour earlier, a minibus with 14 people on board crashed at Highnam, near the A40 to the west of Gloucester.

Following the 999 call at 4.44am, GWAS dispatched ambulances and paramedics to the incident.

About 12 patients have been taken to Gloucestershire Royal - one with serious injuries, the rest described as walking wounded.

GWAS and both hospitals dealing with the patients have declared a major incident.

A spokesman for GWAS said today: "Clearly these are both very serious incidents with multiple patients injured - and occurring within a few miles of each other have resulted in us dispatching considerable resources. Crews from ambulance stations across Gloucestershire have responded, while we have also dispatched crews from our Avon sector.

"Reports from our control room say that the roads in the area are treacherously icy, which could well have contributed to both these incidents."