School Teacher Peter Rippington Killed And Eleven Remain In Hospital After Coach Crash In France
The driver of the coach that killed schoolteacher Peter Rippington, and left injured 27 after it crashed on its way back from a school ski trip in France, may have fallen asleep at the wheel.
Initial tests on the coach driver, who received minor injuries, showed he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but local police are believed to be investigating whether he might have fallen asleep.
Of those injured in the crash, 11 people remain in hospital. Six of those are seriously injured, but Chalons-en-Champagne prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny added that their condition was not life threatening.
A 13-year-old girl has been transferred for treatment at the Necker children's hospital in Paris where she had undergone an operation.
Rippington, 59, was described as a "wonderful" teacher. He died when the bus flipped over and came to rest at the bottom of an embankment near the city of Reims in the Champagne-Ardenne region in the early hours of yesterday.
Rippington's wife Sharon and daughter Amy 24, were also injured in the crash, which involved 29 pupils from Alvechurch Middle School in Worcestershire.
Peter Rippington was a "dedicated and inspirational teacher", Bryan Maybee, chairman of governors of Alvechurch Middle School, said in a statement read outside the school today.
"He will be so sadly missed by all those who knew him," he said.
After confirming that staff and children who were well enough to travel arrived back from France last night, the chair of governors added: "We continue to wish for the swift recovery and safe return of those who are currently being treated for injuries abroad.
"The school is open today and I can reassure you that specialist support is in place for children and staff.
"The headteacher's focus at this time, as I am sure you will understand, is being available to all who need her within the school.
"She joins me in praising Peter Rippington for all he has done for the school and local community over the years and her thoughts, as are mine, are with his family at this tragic time."
It is not known how many of the seriously injured were children, but hundreds of messages of support have been left on Twitter for a schoolgirl named Suzie who was yesterday said to be in a coma.
A statement from the Rippington family said: "We, as a family, are devastated at the tragic loss of Peter, a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher.
"We are still extremely concerned about the health of his wife, Sharon, who was injured and is still recovering in hospital in France.
"Sharon is accompanied by her daughter Amy, who escaped the incident with minor injuries."
Rippington was described as a "one of a kind teacher" by his pupils, who gathered at the school in shock.
Kate Vanderplank, who has two sons who were taught by him, said: "He was a fantastic teacher, really special.
"He was great not just within the school but in the community as well."
The 43-year-old, who said the teacher had been at the school for "many years" added: "The boys wanted to bring some flowers, they were both in shock."
Flowers were left outside the school where children will be offered counselling today, while pupils left an apple with a tribute attached.
It read: "Dear Mr Rip, you will be truly missed. You were a one of a kind teacher and you can never be replaced. You were funny and kind and always made everyone's day.
"We will love and miss you forever and always."
A female pupil told Sky News: "He was an amazing teacher. You could talk to him about anything. He would just sit and listen."
A total of 27 people were taken to two local hospitals following the crash, with 22 of those said to have minor injuries.
Interski Snowsport School, the company that arranged the trip, said there were 21 adults on the coach when it crashed on the A26 at Chalons-en-Champagne.
There were two drivers on board, along with six Interski instructors and 13 adults belonging to the school party.
The company said in a statement: "We are saddened and distressed to report the death of a party leader following a coach accident in the Reims area of Northern France at approximately 2.30 GMT this morning.
"Our thoughts are with the bereaved family and friends, to whom we offer our sincere condolences.
"We also extend our sympathy to the four seriously injured passengers, to 22 passengers with minor injuries and to all others involved in this tragic incident."
It said a following coach stopped and helped rescue people from the wreckage of the crashed vehicle and alerted the emergency services.
Those who escaped uninjured were cared for by the French Red Cross at a sports complex in the region while a rescue vehicle was dispatched from the UK to bring those fit to travel home.
Images of the dented coach lying on its side without its windscreen were shown on news channels.
The bus was owned by Solus Coaches, which is based in Tamworth, Staffordshire, and was chartered by the ski company.
A spokesman for Solus Coaches said: "We are extremely saddened to learn of the tragic coach accident involving one of our vehicles in the Reims area of northern France at approximately 02.30 CET/GMT this morning.
"Our thoughts are with the bereaved, to whom we offer our sincere condolences.
"We are also obviously highly concerned for the welfare of the injured passengers and all others involved in this incident."
The Foreign Office (FCO) is investigating the accident and is providing consular assistance to those affected while the British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, met passengers yesterday.