Two of region's schools in horror crash
AN INVESTIGATION is underway today into an horrific bus crash in Germany which claimed the lives of a Suffolk school pupil and a coach driver.Stuart Dines, 14, a student at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham, died after he was struck by a piece of metal from a lorry that had careered into the stationary bus in which he and fellow pupils were travelling to the Austrian skiing resort of Fugen.
By Danielle Nuttall
AN INVESTIGATION is underway today into an horrific bus crash in Germany which claimed the lives of a Suffolk school pupil and a coach driver.
Stuart Dines, 14, a student at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham, died after he was struck by a piece of metal from a lorry that had careered into the stationary bus in which he and fellow pupils were travelling to the Austrian skiing resort of Fugen.
The accident - which involved two East Anglian schools - happened in the early hours of Saturday on the A4 autobahn near Cologne, when the double-decker coach carrying 55 pupils, two ski guides and six staff from Thomas Mills suffered a puncture and had to pull over onto the hard shoulder.
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The stationary coach was then struck from behind by a lorry carrying sheet metal.
The lorry jack-knifed towards the central reservation and was involved in a collision with a second British coach carrying 36 pupils plus staff from the private Norwich School in Norfolk, which was also heading to a half-term skiing trip in the Alps.
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Stuart, from Woodbridge, is believed to have been killed when the piece of metal from the lorry smashed through one of the coach windows.
An assistant driver on the other coach carrying pupils from Norwich was also killed.
Five other pupils from Thomas Mills High School were taken to hospital but were later released.
The school has confirmed a teenage girl in year 10 suffered a dislocated jaw while another girl in year nine suffered a wrist injury in the crash.
Authorities said of the 108 people involved in the accident, up to 28 were injured, four seriously. It is believed two are still being treated in hospital, one with critical injuries.
Some of the pupils were thought to have been asleep when the crash occurred.
The children were taken to a nearby school after the accident, where they waited until they could be transported back to the UK in the early hours of Sunday.
The pupils from Thomas Mills were all aged 12 to 16 and had been waved off by their parents at the school on Friday.
Colin Hirst, headteacher of Thomas Mills, said: “There were lots of parents seeing the youngsters off. They were happy and excited and looking forward to it. This trip has run for at least 15 years as part of the tradition of the school,” he said.
Mr Hirst, 51, said the first he had known of the tragedy was when he received a telephone call in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Accompanied by his deputy Elizabeth Halley and a police officer from Suffolk police, Mr Hirst then visited the home of Robert and Jackie Dines to deliver the tragic news.
“I am sorry to say I had to break the news to Stuart's parents. It's the most difficult thing I have had to do in my professional career. Nothing prepares you to do that,” he said.
“It's absolutely horrendous. In 28 years of being in teaching this is the worst of my professional career and that particular scene was the most challenging and difficult in my experience.
“The youngsters are devastated and shocked. They have responded in the way I would have hoped Thomas Mills pupils would have done. It's a relief the youngsters were released from hospital so they could come back as a group on the coach.”
The headteacher said teachers had asked pupils involved in the crash to hand over their mobile phones so that news could not leak out before he had had a chance to inform their families of what had happened.
It is believed the school had difficulty tracking down some of the parents of the youngsters involved as they too were taking half-term holidays. The school confirmed two parents had been contacted at Heathrow Airport before they were about to fly off on holiday.
Mr Hirst praised his staff in Germany and those who offered to help out at the school in the aftermath of the tragedy for the way they had handled the incident.
“Clearly staff have been dealing with this incident in what I would describe as an incredibly professional and very competent manner. I'm hugely grateful to them,” he said.
“I cannot put into words how grateful I am for the help and support and professionalism of my colleagues. We've had a number of parents and staff offering their support. The local education authority has also been very supportive.”
Mr Hirst said details of the accident were still sketchy but he said the children were all believed to be sitting down on the coach when the accident occurred, and some were probably asleep.
He said the coach had stopped on the hard shoulder and was displaying a warning triangle and hazard lights.
It was also a complete coincidence that the other bus involved was also carrying pupils from East Anglia, he added.
The school runs two skiing trips every year, and has done for at least 15 years. One is held in the February half term break for pupils aged between 12 and 16, while the other is for sixth formers at Easter. Mr Hirst said it was too early to say at this stage whether the trip at Easter would go ahead as planned.
German police said the motorway branch of the service would be responsible for the investigation into the accident, which is believed to be underway today.
The Foreign Office said a group of 10 specialists trained in dealing with trauma and disasters were sent to the crash site.
Andreas Moh, press officer for Cologne Police, said the children in the crash were “distressed” and “traumatised” and were taken to makeshift first aid centres at a school and fire station in Kerpen.
A Suffolk police spokesman said: “Suffolk police were contacted by a member of staff from the high school at around 6.20am on Saturday asking for police assistance in notifying the family of the tragic incident. Police are providing a family liaison officer and they are liaising with the family and the school.”
David Thornton, Suffolk County Council's acting director of learning, said it would be working closely with staff, governors and parents to help the school community to come to terms with what had happened.
“We are deeply sorry to hear of the sad loss of Stuart Dines, the student from Thomas Mills High School,” he said. “Our thoughts are with Stuart's family and friends at this time.”