One man dead, 70 injured in bus crash near Alton Towers

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A man was killed and more than 60 people injured when a double-decker coach returning from a trip to Alton Towers in Staffordshire crashed over a bridge last night.

The coach, believed to have been carrying 70 European farm workers from near Peterborough, was coming down a steep hill in the village of Alton at about 6pm and failed to take a corner, plunging 20 feet down an embankment and turning over.

A 20-year-old woman who was airlifted to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham was in a critical condition and fighting for her life. Another "very seriously" injured casualty was flown to University Hospital, Stoke-on-Trent. Six people were immobilised using spinal boards and neck collars and taken to the Stoke hospital by road, while nine others with minor injuries were taken to local hospitals. A further 44 people were treated at the Alton Towers medical centre.

Last night, rescuers were still working to establish whether anyone was still trapped in the coach. It is believed to have collided with a parked car in the garden of a house by the bridge, which crosses the river Churnet. It is not known whether anyone not in the coach was hurt.

Chief Inspector John Maddox, from Staffordshire Police, said officers were trying to establish what caused the crash. "The coach was coming down a steep hill towards the bridge and, from what I can see, that coach has not managed to go round the bend, has careered through a wall and down into a garden," he said.

Bradley Ford, who runs the Alton Bridge Hotel on Station Road, was one of the first people on the scene. "I heard this massive crash and rumble – crunching metal. It sounded like a thunderstorm, but then we heard shouts and screams," he said.

"When I got to the scene, there was a coach overturned. There were many walking wounded being seen to by ambulance staff and half a dozen with head wounds."

Mr Ford used first aid to help the victims, getting nearby residents to bring bandages and blankets. He said the corner was a "bad bend" and the road was often busy with traffic from the theme park. "The coach had ploughed through a garden and two cars parked on a driveway. One of them was bouncing down the road, the other must have flown along with the coach," he added.

Martin Bredda, who lives close to the scene of the crash, described it as "an accident waiting to happen" and said the narrow road was not suitable for the many coaches passing through the village of Alton. "It's an extremely dangerous road. It is an old road and because buses and coaches are so wide now, the road cannot cope with them. There has been talk of a bypass for the village for the past 25 years and nothing has been done about it," he said.

He added that heavy rain had made the surface of the road on the hill down to the bridge treacherous. "It's mayhem, absolute mayhem. We had a torrential downpour just before it happened," Mr Bredda said.

"I was in the pub when someone came in screaming for blankets and sheets. We went to help but the area had been cordoned off by police. I was told his brakes must have failed."

Margaret Grice, who lives on Station Road, said: "I heard what I thought sounded like thunder, and the next thing I knew my front door was being banged on.

"There were 12 or 15 young people standing there, crying and with blood running down them. They said there had been an accident. They couldn't really speak English.

"I rang 999 and went outside. I was astonished to see a double-decker coach. It had dropped through my neighbour's garden; it must have fallen about 15 feet and had rolled over. All these people were crying; I ran out with some towels and blankets. It was chaos. We're all very upset."

A spokeswoman for Alton Towers said there had "never been a problem" with the level of coach traffic through the village. She added: "They [Alton Towers] have not been told by police what caused the accident and all they are interested in is assisting the police as much as they can."