French Alps coach crash: Hero British driver praised for saving the lives of over 50 passengers

Maurice Wrightson drove into rocks and trees to avoid plunging over precipice

A coach driver who drove into rocks and trees to avoid plunging over a precipice has been hailed a hero for saving the lives of more than 50 passengers.

The driver, named as Maurice Wrightson, was killed when the bus exploded after crashing through trees and slamming into a cliff-face.

Frédéric Cuvillier, the French Transport minister, visited the scene of the tragedy and praised the courage of the driver whom he said had “saved many lives”.

Initial investigations indicated that the driver shouted a warning to passengers that the brakes had failed, and then steered deliberately into trees and rocks in an attempt to slow the coach down rather than risk careering into a ravine.

The accident, on Tuesday afternoon, took place as the vehicle approached the last of 21 hairpin bends on the notorious mountain road leading down from the Alpe d'Huez ski resort.

“The driver showed remarkable courage. The witnesses all agree that his acts and his attitude meant a much heavier loss of life was avoided,” said Mr Cuvillier.

Marcus Beauchamp, whose brother Matthew was one of the passengers on the coach, said: “The driver saved everyone's life by steering into the tree rather than go over the edge. He was a hero.”

Some of the passengers were thrown clear as the vehicle crashed, and some are thought to have jumped before the vehicle, and the trailer it was pulling, came to a halt, but four people were seriously hurt and had to be dragged out of the burning coach. One of the most seriously injured was a 19-year-old woman who suffered 80 per cent burns.

Jean-Yves Coquillat, the Grenoble public prosecutor, told journalists that brake failure was a “very probable” factor in the accident.

Mr Wrightson, from Ashington, Northumberland, was at the controls of the Classic Coaches vehicle operated by TGM and was one of two drivers board, along with 51 passengers. He is thought to have been aged 63.

Heath Williams, the managing director, described the crash as it as a tragic accident and was reported as saying: “A number of passengers have sustained injuries and our thoughts are with them as they recover.

”Early indications are that our driver tried to take evasive action and that he alerted passengers. We pay tribute to him for his efforts, and also to our relief driver who helped people to leave the vehicle.“

The passengers included ski resort workers with Brighton-based SkiBound who were leaving at the end of the season.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: ”Our thoughts are with those involved in the coach crash in Isere which has resulted in the death of a British National. We are providing consular support.

“We thank the French authorities, both local and national, and the emergency services for their efforts to help those affected.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor