Briton killed in French coach crash

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The Independent Online

A 15-year-old boy was killed and four people seriously injured today when a coach-load of youngsters heading for an adventure holiday crashed and overturned in France.

A 15-year-old boy was killed and four people seriously injured today when a coach-load of youngsters heading for an adventure holiday crashed and overturned in France.

The victim, Craig Norsworthy from Edinburgh, was among a group from the 41st Edinburgh Boys Brigade who were travelling with a party of London schoolchildren.

Craig's devastated parents Stephen and Ida spoke of their sorrow at the loss of their "cheeky wee laddie".

At their home in Hosie Rigg, in a quiet suburban area of Edinburgh known as The Jewell, Craig's family were coming to terms with their shock.

Craig, the younger of two children, was awaiting the results of his Standard Grade exams on Thursday.

In a statement his parents said: "He was a happy-go-lucky lad, a cheeky wee laddie in the best sense of the word.

"He had the cheekiest smile, the very same one that he had had since he was a baby."

Eleven of the 48 people on board were injured, four seriously, said the Foreign Office.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott today offered French authorities assistance in carrying out an inquiry into the accident, which happened at about 6.25am local time (5.25am British time) as the coach travelled south on the A71 motorway at the village of Vierzon near Clermont Ferrand, in the centre of the country.

It was the second fatal coach crash in a month on the A71, after a Belgian coach left the road killing two and injuring 50 in July, said French media.

Acting captain of the Boys Brigade, Alan Meikle, who was on the coach this morning, said everyone had been wearing seatbelts and most were asleep at the time of the crash.

The coach party aged between 12 and 18 were heading to Brive-la-Gaillarde in the Dordogne with Herefordshire-based school specialists PGL Travel for a week's adventure holiday of white water rafting, canoeing and assault courses.

There were 21 children and six adults from the Edinburgh Boys Brigade company, based at Duddingston Kirk in the east of the city, and a party of 17 youngsters and two adults from Chadwell Heath Foundation School, Romford, east London.

The statement from Craig's parents, who also have a 16-year-old son Ross, continued: "He liked computers, but he had reached the age where he was moving away from computers to enjoy the social life.

"The Boys Brigade had a crowd after the activities and they went out socially together in the evenings.

"He had quite a few girlfriends - the phone was always ringing, but we think he did have someone special.

"He was good with the younger kids in the street, because he would encourage them and play football with them."

Parent Les Abbs told how for two and a half hours he did not know whether his son David, 14, was alive or dead.

The Romford pupil had been badly shaken by the experience, he added.

"When he phoned he was in pieces, he was crying down the phone, he was in absolute agony. He had cuts all down his arms and he couldn't move his arms."

Parent Sandra Marshall, 36, was working the night shift at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary when she was told son James, 12, had been involved in the crash.

She said: "James telephoned to say that he was unhurt. He said there was no other vehicle involved but he had his seatbelt on and he woke up upside down in the coach with everybody screaming and glass everywhere.

"He was not crying but he was obviously shaken."

Gendarmes at the scene said the accident was thought to have been caused by the driver falling asleep at the wheel.

More than 20 emergency vehicles attended the scene and the injured were taken by ambulance and helicopter to hospitals in Vierzon and Bourges, while the uninjured were taken to an emergency centre at Vierzon where counsellors were on hand.

Gordon Menzies, general manager of coach operator Rennies of Dunfermline, said the Volvo coach was fully fitted with seatbelts.

Keith Wilkinson, head teacher of Chadwell Heath Foundation School, said one of his pupils, 15-year-old Ross Buckmaster, had suffered a serious neck injury and a girl had undergone a successful operation to remove glass from her face.

Chief executive of the Boys Brigade, Sydney Jones, said: "It is a terrible tragedy. It makes your blood run cold when you hear of it."

Mr Prescott said: "Our thoughts and sympathy are with the families of the children and teachers involved in this terrible accident.

"I have spoken to the French authorities to thank them and offer any assistance that may be required in the inquiry into why this tragic accident occurred."

One of the teachers with the Chadwell Heath group, David Thompson, said the children were shocked and shaken.

"They are all worried about their friends, but as more of them come back from hospital with only cuts and bandages, they are feeling more and more relieved," he said.

PGL Travel, which has been operating since 1957, has 27 adventure centres across the UK and France, and is arranging to take parents out to see the children where necessary.

The company has also set up a helpline for worried parents on 01989 764211. A Foreign Office emergency hotline is on 020 7839 1010.

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