France bus crash: At least 43 dead after coach taking pensioners on day trip and lorry collide and burst into flames

The vehicles collided and burst into flames this morning near Libourne

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 23 October 2015 07:54

At least 43 people have died in a crash involving a bus carrying pensioners on a day trip and a lorry near the French city of Bordeaux.

A three-year-old boy believed to be the lorry driver’s son was among the victims of France’s worst road accident in more than three decades.

The child's body was not found in an initial search and police only discovered it after relatives told them had been with his father, i-Tele reported.

The vehicles were travelling in opposite directions along a narrow road in Puisseguin, near Libourne, when they collided and burst into flames at around 7.30am local time (6.30am BST).

Dozens killed in France crash

Authorities said they believed the lorry, carrying logs, lost control on a bend and skidded into the coach’s path in Puisseguin.

Xavier Sublett, the town’s mayor, said the bus driver could not avoid the crash but managed to open a door in the last seconds so eight passengers could escape.

He survived but all other passengers, who were on a group outing for pensioners from nearby Petit-Palais, were trapped inside the burning vehicle and died.

A local resident, Dr Philippe Flipot, said the driver told him the lorry “jack-knifed”, telling Europe 1 radio: “He couldn't avoid it, he managed to open the doors and some passengers could get off the bus.

“Risking his life, because flames were licking him, he managed to evacuate some people.”

More than 50 firefighters were needed to put out the blaze, which left the bus as a blackened frame with little but its metal bodywork surviving the flames.

An aerial view of the site where a coach carrying members of an elderly people's club collided with a truck outside Puisseguin near Bordeaux

Aerial views on the scene aired on French television showed the mangled remains of both vehicles on a narrow, curving road surrounded by trees.

Two people were hospitalised with head injuries and two more with burns, while four people had less serious wounds.

One of those injured was the driver of a car who stopped and tried to help rescue people, RTL radio reported.

Speaking from Greece, President François Hollande said the French government was fully mobilised in the face of the “terrible tragedy” and extended his condolences to victims’ families.

Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve at the site of the crash in Puisseguin

The Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, visited Puisseguin hours after the disaster with the interior and transport ministers.

He said the senior citizens on the bus “should have returned home tonight” after their planned day trip ham-tasting in Arzacq-Arraziguet, 120 miles away.

They were just minutes into their journey when the accident happened.

“It's a terrible shock…and today France and the French people are in mourning,” Mr Valls added, saying an investigation into the cause of the crash had already been started by forensic experts at the scene.

Local authorities were already facing questions about the condition of the road, which was reportedly resurfaced four years ago and had the correct signage ahead of the bend.

Noel Mamere, who represents the Gironde region, said the stretch of road was “extremely dangerous” and prone to accidents, adding: “That should make us question ourselves about political choices made in terms of infrastructure.”

The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, and transport secretary, Alain Vidalies, joined Mr Valls and local politicians to show their respect at the scene.

The crash is the worst road accident in France for more than 30 years, since 53 people, including 44 children, died in another bus crash in 1982.

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