Quick-witted driver saves 44 pupils from coach fire
A BUS driver whose quick-witted reactions helped save more than 40 children after a coach caught fire said the youngsters were evacuated so quickly they didn't even know there was a blaze.
Ger Mackey told the Irish Independent that most of the 44 youngsters didn't even realise there was a fire until they were 50m from the coach and turned back to see smoke pouring from its engine compartment.
"All that mattered was that no one was hurt. That was the only thing I was concerned about as I stopped the bus and opened the emergency doors to get everyone out. The teachers helped and we had everyone off the bus in a matter of seconds," he said.
The children, from Kilcredan national school in east Cork, had a lucky escape after the coach caught fire just metres from the 610m Jack Lynch Tunnel on the outskirts of Cork city.
The 44 youngsters were accompanied by four teachers on their way to compete in the county-wide Sciath na Scoil sports day in Pairc Ui Rinn.
Principal Margaret Beausang told the Irish Independent the driver, teachers and pupils all reacted with admirable calmness to the sudden drama.
"Thank God for the quick-witted actions of the driver and the teachers. The students were also very mature in the way that they responded to the whole thing," she said.
Mr Mackey was hailed as a hero for his quick-thinking in getting everyone off the 50-seat bus in a matter of seconds.
He noticed smoke inside the coach and immediately stopped some 100m from the tunnel's southern exit. The blaze spread so fast the engine compartment was gutted but no major damage was caused to the passenger section of the coach thanks to the prompt arrival of Cork fire brigade.
Mr Mackey, assisted by the teachers, brought the children to safety some 100m from the blazing coach and stayed with them until they were transferred by another bus to Pairc Ui Rinn.
Mr Mackey operates a coach hire firm based outside Midleton and has 14 buses and mini-buses on the road.
A Cork fire brigade source said that the driver's quick actions were instrumental in ensuring the incident passed off without injury.
He also stressed that, had the bus caught fire inside the tunnel, both the fire brigade and gardai would have faced a major emergency alert.
Kilcredan continued on to the Sciath na Scoil finals where, unfortunately, their good luck didn't hold out and they lost by a goal in the Cork county hurling final.