STUDENTS have spoken of their terror as their packed school bus swerved out of control in torrential rain and ploughed sideways through a ditch, with a tree being driven into the cabin.
Catriona Nugent (17) was one of three students trapped at the back of the bus by the shattered tree.
“I suppose I am very lucky to be alive,” she said.
“The tree smashed through the window right beside me. It missed my head by just a couple of inches. Myself and my two friends were sitting on the back seat and we were trapped by the tree after the impact.”
Catriona said she feared for her legs, which were trapped by the tree.
“I couldn’t get out of the bus as my legs were caught. It happened before any of us knew what was going on. I thought the road was very bumpy. Then, all of a sudden, a tree passed right over my head.
“There was shattered glass everywhere. The bus was being driven by a different driver, but the normal driver was also with him.”
When the bus ground to a halt in a sunken field, the driver got all the youngsters clear and then came back to reassure the three trapped students.
Gardai and Cork fire brigade officials admitted it was a miracle that the worst injury among the 52 passengers was a minor leg injury suffered by a teenage boy.
The accident – at Cregg South on the Fermoy-Ballyhooly Road in north Cork – is being blamed on extreme weather conditions.
Incredibly, a woodwork teacher from Colaiste an Chaoibhin in Fermoy arrived and used a saw to help emergency services cut the tree and free the trapped students.
Catriona, from Kildinan, was rushed to Cork University Hospital (CUH).
Her brother, Ciaran (15), rang their parents, Lilly and Ritchie, to tell them what had happened.
“I heard on the news in my car that there had been a bus crash,” Lilly said.
“I was in total shock. But then Ciaran rang and said Catriona was being taken to Cork by ambulance. It was such a huge relief when he was able to put her on the phone and I could talk to her.”
Ritchie spoke of his relief that no one was seriously hurt.
“We got a terrible shock. There are a lot of kids very shocked but, thankfully, there are no really bad injuries. They were very, very lucky,” he said.
Grainne Curtin (15) from Glenville described the terrifying moments of the accident.
“I was really scared. I felt helpless because there was some people trapped inside for a bit longer than the rest of us,” she said.
“Everybody suddenly dropped to one side. The bus seemed to be leaning and then there was a crunching and scraping sound. Afterwards, the bus driver broke the glass and everybody was able to climb out the window.”
Teenager Adam Cronin (16) suffered a leg injury, but is expected to be released from CUH today. His mother Helena said the talented soccer player was also very fortunate.
“His leg isn’t broken, but there may be some nerve damage. He is in a bit of pain, but he is only being kept in as a precaution,” she said.
The accident happened at 8.20am yesterday as the students were being taken to Fermoy secondary schools including Colaiste an Chraoibhin, Loreto and St Colman’s.
Colaiste an Chraoibhin, where the bulk of the 52 youngsters were pupils, praised the emergency services for their response. “Staff and teachers from all three schools assisted at the scene,” principal Christy Healy said.
“We are very lucky they nobody was seriously injured. On behalf of the three schools I would like to thank the rapid response of the gardai, the ambulance service and fire brigade, who were all at the scene within minutes.”
Gardai and Bus Eireann are investigating the incident. Bus Eireann confirmed the vehicle belonged to sub-contractors, Glenferry Coaches.