Irish driver dies as coach full of children crashes in Belgium
An Irish grandfather has died following a horror coach crash in Belgium.
James Chance, from Lisburn, Co Antrim, was one of two drivers on a bus taking a group of 34 British schoolchildren and six teachers to a theme park in Germany.
But the fun trip turned to tragedy in the West Flanders region of Belgium yesterday at around 10am local time when the vehicle struck a motorway bridge pillar.
The other driver is also from Northern Ireland and has been named locally as Stephen Cardwell. He has been left seriously injured. Both drivers are aged in their mid-50s.
Brentwood School in Essex confirmed the coach was carrying children aged between 11 and 13. Two of the children are in a serious condition in hospital, while 15 others suffered minor injuries.
Many of the children are already home.
Lisburn firm Richmond Coaches has confirmed the vehicle belonged to their fleet. It emerged last night that Mr Chance had not been driving the bus at the time of the crash.
His devastated family told UTV that they were left in limbo when news of the crash broke and that there was a fatality.
They were left to frantically call numerous organisations to determine who had died before eventually learning it was their beloved father.
The family described Mr Chance as an experienced driver and a family man.
Local councillor Patrick Catney, who knows the McKenna family who run Richmond Coaches, described the crash as a “tragedy”.
“This is so sad, it’s so tragic,” he said. “This company is very long-established and has a great safety record – they only operate top of the line luxury coaches.”
It is understood Mr Chance is originally from Newcastle in England but settled in Lisburn many years ago. He was known affectionately by his friends as Geordie.
Richmond Coaches released a statement last night confirming one of its drivers had lost his life in Belgium.
“The coach was carrying a party of school children and teachers from Brentwood School in Essex,” the firm said.
“The two drivers in their mid-50s were James Chance and Stephen Cardwell. Mr Cardwell remains in hospital with his condition described as stable.
“Richmond Coaches were devastated to hear of the death of their second driver, Mr Chance, who was sitting in the courier seat at the time of the crash. Mr Chance’s family have been informed of his death.”
A spokesman for the Middelkerke town council, near where the crash took place, said police were looking into the cause, but could give no indication of when its findings would be released.
Pictures of the bus show it lying on its side with the front completely destroyed.
Middelkerke and Nieuwpoort sent 35 firefighters, 10 police officers and 10 members of the civil defence force to the scene of the crash.