Hero driver who saved 34 children from school bus fire says 'instinct kicked in'
A BUS driver who saved the lives of 34 children when his school bus burst into flames has insisted he was just acting on instinct.
Brian McLaughlin, a well-known country and western singer in Co Donegal, led the children to safety when his coach caught fire on the school run yesterday morning.
The children were safely evacuated from the bus in a matter of moments.
Mr McLaughlin, who is from Creeslough, was taking children from his home village to their schools in Letterkenny.
They had just reached the outskirts of Letterkenny when the drama began to unfold, he said.
"I was coming up to the Mountain Top area and I thought I could smell burning," he said. "I went to the back of the bus and one of the boys there and a girl at the front thought they could smell something burning.
"I couldn't see anything and put it down to a fuse in a light or something like that.
"I drove off slowly and was checking my mirrors when I saw this explosion of flames from underneath the bus about 100 metres further on.
"Instinct kicked in. I just wanted to get those children off.
"I got up and told the children we needed to get off the bus quickly as it was on fire.
"The St Eunan's College boys were all sitting at the back and they were brilliant.
"They opened the emergency exit and they went that way and I got all the Loreto Convent girls out the front and away to safety.
"It was absolutely frightening, but we were all off the bus in 10 to 12 seconds so it worked perfectly from that point of view.
"This has never happened to me before and I hope it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing because I'd never like it to happen again," he added.
"The children were relatively calm but I'd say inside they were very frightened by the experience. I just thank God no-one was injured or worse."
The bus was extensively damaged in the blaze.
Gardai praised Mr McLaughlin's quick-thinking during the incident.
"He acted in a quick and professional manner and ensured the safety of all the children on board," said a spokesman.