Irish students injured in Spain bus crash in which 13 women died
Thirteen women university exchange students died and more than 40 people from 19 countries including Britain and Ireland were injured today in a Spanish motorway coach crash.
It has emerged that three of the Irish students involved in the Spanish bus tragedy were on Erasmus placements in Spain from University College Cork.
UCC today confirmed that three of its students were involved but none were seriously injured.
Two of the students were completely uninjured in the collision.
Embassy is aware of this morning's tragic bus accident in #Tarragona. Nationalities of the victims have yet to be confirmed.— IrelandEmbassyMadrid (@IrlEmbMadrid) March 20, 2016
A third student is understood to have only sustained minor injures.
It is understood that this student has already been discharged from a Spanish hospital following treatment.
UCC stressed that for privacy reasons it will not be disclosing the names of the students involved or where they are from.
UCC's international studies department is liaising with the students and their famlies following the incident.
"This morning's bus crash in Tarragona, Spain is a truly tragic incident," Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has said.
"I can confirm that two young Irish people have received non life-threatening injuries and my Department has been in contact with their families.
"Ambassador Cooney and his team at the Embassy in Madrid are working to establish the facts of the situation.
"The details of those who have lost their lives have not been released yet.
"We are waiting on the authorities to pass on that information before we can definitively rule out further Irish involvement.
"Anyone with concerns regarding Irish citizens who may have been affected can contact my Department on 01 408 2000."
All of the Erasmus pupils on board the coach were on their way back from a famous festival when the driver lost control and careered through a crash barrier before smashing into an oncoming car and overturning.
One of the nine people seriously hurt was said to be fighting for life in hospital last night as 17 forensic experts worked on confirming the identities of the fatalities.
Autopsies have been carried out on nine of the 13 people who died - all of them were young women aged between 22 and 29.
Twenty-eight people remained in hospitals in three provinces late this afternoon.
The tragedy happened just before 6am after the coach carrying 60 passengers aged in their twenties crossed the central reservation and collided with an oncoming car on the AP-7 near the picturesque town of Freginals between Barcelona and Valencia.
The students, most studying temporarily at Barcelona University, were on their way back to the Catalan capital after enjoying the last night of the international Las Fallas Festival.
Spain’s Acting Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz attributed the crash to an “undefined human error”.
Emergency services coordinators confirmed the injured were from 19 different countries, including Britain and Ireland.
The unnamed coach driver, described as a highly-experienced professional who had never been involved in an accident, survived and was expected to be called before an investigating judge tonight after being questioned by police.
Authorities confirmed he had tested negative for alcohol and drugs and was being helped by a psychologist because he was suffering shock.
The vehicle he was driving, a three-year-old coach which had passed all its MOTs, was one of five in a convoy belonging to the same firm which had been hired by a local Erasmus student association.
Alejandro Lopez, owner of Autocares Alejandro based near Barcelona who was driving the vehicle in front of the one that crashed, said: “I lost sight of my colleague who was behind me before crossing a bridge over the River Ebro and I began to grow suspicious.
“I stopped in a service station because I knew something had happened and began to call him but he didn’t pick up the phone.
“Fifteen minutes later I was told there had been an accident with fatalities.”
Mexican exchange student Victor Pano Torres, 21, speaking with a neck brace from a hotel near the crash scene where the less seriously-injured were taken, added: “I was asleep and don’t remember anything.
“The accident woke me up. A friend was travelling in front of me but thankfully he’s okay too.”
The place where the coach crashed is a known accident blackspot.
But officials ruled out the state of the road in their initial assessment of the tragedy.
Catalunya’s Interior Minister Jordi Jane, speaking outside a hotel in Tortosa where the less-seriously injured passengers on the coach were taken, said: “We haven’t got all the information, but it appears the coach veered off to the right of the motorway towards a crash barrier on the hard shoulder before it swerved to the left with such force that the vehicle crossed to the other side of the road.”
The occupants of the car it hit, two Catalans who were travelling southwards towards Valencia, were injured but not seriously.
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont declared two days of mourning and suspended an official visit to Paris.
Barcelona University where most of the dead and injured were thought to have been studying ordered flags on its main campus to be flown at half-mast.
As well as Britain and Ireland, emergency services coordinators said the injured came from EU countries including Germany, Hungary and Poland as well as Norway, Switzerland, Japan and Palestine.
The tragedy is one of the worst involving a coach in recent years in Spain.
Twenty-eight people, mostly teenagers, died in July 2000 when a coach and a lorry collided with each other near the northern city of Soria.
The Fallas, an annual festival in Valencia which the students were returning from, is held every March and attracts many foreign visitors as well as Spanish tourists.
The city of just over one million inhabitants swells as around two million revellers descend on the city.
The focus of the festival are huge cardboard, wood, papier-mache and plaster statues which are set alight.
Many poke fun at corrupt politicians and Spanish celebrities.
The trip to Valencia had been organised by Erasmus Student Network Barcelona UB, which describes itself as a students’ association which promotes integration of all University of Barcelona exchange students.
It posted a black ribbon on its Facebook page today along with a statement in Spanish and English which read: “ESN Barcelona would like to convey our condolences and join the pain of the families, friends and relatives of the victims.
“We feel the deep loss. In the same way we would like to express our sincere willingness to be as helpful as possible with the family, friends or institutions.”
A beach volley event the association had organised in Barcelona was cancelled following the crash.
Spain’s Royal Family tweeted from its official account: “Our feelings and support to the families of the victims and the injured in the coach accident on the AP-7 in Freginals.”
Acting PM Mariano Rajoy tweeted: “Tragic accident in Freginals. My condolences to the family of the dead and my hopes the injured recover soon.”
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are in contact with the relevant authorities in Spain following the coach crash.”
Diplomatic sources said there was nothing to suggest any of the fatalities were British, “although details were still emerging.”