School bus crash leaves three dead and 39 injured

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The Independent Online

Three people were killed and four were critically injured in a crash between a car and their school bus in Cumbria yesterday.

Two teenagers travelling on the bus – a girl and a boy – were killed, as well as the adult male driver of the car that hit it. Thirty-five others suffered minor injuries in the accident, which happened at around 3.45pm yesterday on the A66 near Keswick.

The bus was carrying around 30 children on a daily run from Keswick High School to their homes in Cockermouth, scene of the severe floods in November last year, 13 miles away.

Barry Pickthall, who runs JB Pickthall coaches, confirmed the 49-seater involved was from his company and had around 30 pupils on board.

Chief Inspector Greenhow, head of Cumbria Police's road policing unit said: "We encountered two vehicles involved in the collision with a number of people injured and a number of people traumatised as a result of the collision. The bus had been travelling westbound and the car, a grey Honda Civic, was travelling eastbound.

"It is too early to say what has caused the two vehicles to collide. The scene is being investigated thoroughly and we have people talking to the witnesses sensitively."

He added that the children were all pupils at the same school in Keswick. "They will find it difficult to deal with this situation," he said. "But the people of West Cumbria are resilient people and they will gather round and support each other."

Crash investigators could be seen examining the coach, which was lying on its side across both carriageways. Nearby, a green tarpaulin covered another vehicle, believed to be the car that crashed into the bus, a grey Honda Civic.

One sixth former, who arrived at the scene to help, said: "I have heard the bus was quite full, but some of the older kids are on study leave for A-Levels and GCSEs. It is just horrendous. The bus was on its way to Whitehaven dropping kids off along the way on the run home. I think it was the younger ones were more seriously injured."

The A66 was closed while emergency services were on the scene. Eric Alldritt, 73, who witnessed the crash, said: "The road is only two lanes, one in each direction, and that section is very straight so you do get a lot of people trying to overtake. The A66 is a notorious road and the police are regularly called to incidents on that stretch."

Serious casualties were airlifted to Accident and Emergency departments in Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Preston. Several others suffered minor cuts and bruises.

A Red Cross support centre was set up at Braithwaite School, in the neighbouring village of Braithwaite, to offer first aid and emotional support.

Moira Swann, Cumbria County Council's Children's Services Corporate Director, said: "Our immediate thoughts at this time are with the people involved and their families and friends. We are offering all the help and support we can to the children, families and staff affected."

She said that teams would continue to offer practical and emotional support in the coming days.

A spokeswoman for North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust said that the majority of those who were injured in the crash were being treated at Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven.

Police have not released any information regarding the age or gender of those killed and seriously injured.

Perils of the A66

*21 July 2009: A road-sweeping vehicle knocked down two road maintenance workers, killing one and seriously injuring another.

*27 January 2009: Craig Rayiru, 19, lost control of his car, crashing into an oncoming vehicle, killing his two passengers – his brother and a friend – as well as the driver of the other car.

*8 September 2008: After severe flooding, a couple were killed as their car hit a tree in Plymouth, and a 42-year-old motorcyclist died when his bike hit a fallen branch.