Tributes pour in for teacher killed in crash

Driver arrested after coach carrying pupils from Worcestershire veers off French motorway

Tributes were paid yesterday to a teacher killed in a coach crash in northern France as he returned from an Italian ski trip with his pupils.

Peter Rippington, 59, a teacher at Alvechurch School in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, who was known fondly to pupils as "Mr Ripps", died in the crash near Reims. His wife, Sharon, was also seriously injured. Their daughter, Amy, escaped with minor injuries.

The British driver of the coach was arrested by French police after being treated in hosptal for minor injuries.

Mr Rippington's family said last night: "We, as a family, are devastated at the tragic loss of Peter, a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher. We are still extremely concerned about the health of his wife, Sharon, who was injured and is still recovering in hospital in France. Sharon is accompanied by her daughter, Amy. Until they are safely home we ask that our privacy is respected and that we are left to grieve with our friends and family."

Pupils from the middle school, which takes children aged nine to 13, were travelling on two coaches.

French police said last night that a 13-year-old girl remained in critical condition but her life was no longer in danger after she was flown to the Necker children's hospital in Paris for an emergency operation. Five others, including three children, remained in hospital in Reims. Other passengers escaped with minor injuries.

Hereim Goode, whose son, Keiron, 12, was on the second coach, which was following closely behind the first, said of Mr Rippington: "Everybody loved him, he had been teaching in Alvechurch all his life. He was an outstanding teacher. It was to have been his last ski trip and everybody thought the world of him. Always smiling, always a joker. I have another son at Keele University and when I told him he was heartbroken, that's how loved he was."

A neighbour, Brenda Jarvis, said that Mr Rippington was a "lovely man", adding: "He was due to take early retirement this very summer; it would have been his last trip and now he's gone."

The accident happened near Châlons-en-Champagne at 3am as the school party returned from a skiing holiday in Aosta in the Italian Alps. Police said witnesses had spoken of the vehicle veering slowly to the right, before demolishing a safety barrier and coming to rest on its side in a large ditch.

They said the British driver from Solus Coaches, in Tamworth, Staffordshire, had tested negative for drink or drugs. The "most likely working theory" is that he fell asleep at the wheel, a French police spokesman said.

French investigators will examine the coach's tachograph, which records speeds and driving times, to check if any laws had been broken.

The British ambassador in Paris, Sir Peter Ricketts, and his deputy, Ajay Scharma, visited injured members of the school party in Reims yesterday afternoon. The Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt, said: "We will continue to assist both those who were on the coach and their families and friends."

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