At least 43 dead as truck hits OAPs' coach
At least 43 people died when a bus carrying elderly day-trippers collided head-on with a truck and caught fire near Bordeaux yesterday, in France's worst road crash in more than 30 years.
Another eight people were injured in the collision on a country road near Puisseguin in the Gironde region about 60km east of Bordeaux, according to the local prefect's office.
The bus was carrying about 50 pensioners south to the Bearn region from their homes in the village of Petit Palais and surrounding hamlets, all just a few miles away from the crash site, said officials.
The body of a child was later discovered in the wreckage. The child is believed to be the truck driver's three-year-old son, a policeman said. But it is yet to be confirmed, he added, "as it will be very difficult to locate a small body in the burnt-out remains of the truck".
The truck driver was also among the dead. The police spokesman said forensic experts were taking DNA samples from the bodies before removing them from the scene.
"There is still no clear picture of how the accident happened," the police spokesman said. "We do not know if the lorry was stationary or moving."
A spokesman for the interior ministry said that, as far as he could tell, all the passengers were French and from the region.
French president Francois Hollande, speaking on a visit to Athens, said he had been "plunged into sadness by the tragedy", and Prime Minister Manuel Valls and other ministers were heading to the crash site.
It was the most deadly road accident in France since 53 people, mostly children, died in a bus crash in Burgundy in July 1982, according to the independent road safety organisation Association Prevention Routiere. Stricter road regulation and lower speed limits followed, and road deaths in France have fallen steeply since.
French newspapers reported that the mayor of Petit-Palais, Patricia Raichin, has lost three relatives in the crash.
The identification of the bodies may take time because they have all been badly burned.
A driver who was behind the bus helped passengers escape from the burning vehicle by smashing windows, according to reports.
Francois Decauze, the president of the hiking club of Petit-Palais, where many of the passengers lived, said the group was on its way for a one-day excursion to go walking in Les Landes region west of Bordeaux and in the nearby Basque region.
Puisseguin Mayor Xavier Sublett said on RTL radio that the truck driver lost control of the vehicle.
The bus driver "tried to avoid it, but the truck came and hit it, and he couldn't do anything except activate the mechanism to open the doors to allow some people to get out," Mr Sublett said.
Other authorities remained cautious about the circumstances of the crash. The top government official for the Aquitaine region, Pierre Dartout, told reporters an investigation is under way, and Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said it was too early to know what exactly happened.
Local residents have described their shock at the crash. Mr Sublett told the Local news website: "Everyone has been impacted by the tragedy, because we all know someone who was on that bus."
Another witness, named as Nicolas, said: "I saw a huge, thick column of smoke. I was shocked. Then I saw a police car and fire trucks all over the place.
"I had the impression it was like a scene from a war and I am not exaggerating. The further I went along the road, the more I realised that something very serious had happened."
Mr Decauze, the organiser of the coach trip, said: "We are all in shock. It's terrible. We are getting information as it arrives. The phone has not stopped ringing. We are in shock. We don't know what to do. Our friends were on board the bus." (© Daily Telegraph, London)