Ten in hospital after UK teacher dies in crash in France
- 20 February 2012
- From the section Hereford & Worcester
Ten people remain in hospital after a coach carrying a Worcestershire school party back from a skiing trip crashed in northern France, killing a teacher.
Peter Rippington, 59, who taught at Alvechurch School, died and more than 20 people were hurt in the crash near Chalons-en-Champagne early on Sunday.
Among those injured was a girl of 13 who underwent surgery in Paris.
The driver, Derek Thompson, 47, is due before a French court later. One theory is that he fell asleep at the wheel.
The BBC's Hugh Schofield said Mr Thompson, who suffered minor injuries, tested negative for alcohol and drugs and the coach's electronic log book, which recorded the number of hours driven, showed nothing unusual.
Mr Thompson is being held by police in Chalons-en-Champagne and in the next few days is expected to be placed under formal investigation for involuntarily causing death and injury, he added.
The school party had been on a skiing trip to Val d'Aosta in Italy and was returning when the coach went down an embankment on the A26 motorway.
Speaking outside the school, chairman of governors Bryan Maybee offered his condolences to "everyone affected by this tragic accident".
He said: "We pay tribute to Peter Rippington, a dedicated and inspirational teacher.
"We continue to wish for the swift recovery and safe return of those currently being treated for injuries abroad.
"I can reassure you that specialist support is in place all for the children and the staff.
"The head teacher's focus at this time is to be available to all those in high school who need her, both children and staff. She joins me in praising Peter Rippington."
Mr Maybee was joined by the Reverend David Martin, rector of Alvechurch, who said Mr Rippington "was so much part of this community and was known by so many people here".
"He gave his whole life to Alvechurch Church of England Middle School and will be so very sadly missed," he continued.
"The church community are holding all those affected by these tragic events very much in their prayers at this time, especially of course, Peter's family."
Mr Martin added the Parish Church of St Laurence would be open until 17:00 GMT for people to say prayers or to light a candle in memory of the teacher.
Relatives of Mr Rippington said they were "devastated" by his death and "extremely concerned" for his wife Sharon who is also in hospital.
The couple's daughter, Amy, suffered minor injuries in the crash.
Travel company Interski, which organised the trip, said the incident happened at about 02:30 GMT (03:30 local time) near the city of Reims.
There were two coaches in the party and most of the children have now arrived back in Worcestershire.
There were 20 adults - including two drivers and six ski instructors - and 29 schoolchildren on board, the Mansfield-based firm added.
The vehicle involved was owned by Solus Coaches, which is based in Tamworth, Staffordshire.
A spokesman for the coach company said it was "saddened" to hear of the crash and offered its "sincere condolences" to the family and friends of Mr Rippington.
Alvechurch is a Church of England middle school, with pupils' ages ranging from nine to 13, and earlier opened as usual following the half-term break.
Counsellors are at the school to help those who may be affected in the aftermath of the crash.
'Tight knit community'
Several people also came to the school to lay flowers and pay tributes to the teacher.
One of them was parent Katherine Nash who described her daughter as "very lucky".
She said: "She was one of seven children that Mr Rippington couldn't take on the trip so I think they're now the lucky seven.
"There's some lovely tributes and there's also some apples appearing.
"Apparently the children used to sit and watch him eat his apples in detention and now the older ones are coming down and placing apples."
Kimberley Thornton, 23, from Redditch, said Mr Rippington had been her form tutor, describing him as "absolutely amazing".
"He was one of the teachers I remember from the school. He was just a really different kind of person, I could talk to him," she said.
Sajid Javid, the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, added his sympathies to all those affected.
He said: "It's a very tight knit local community in Alvechurch and many people will naturally struggle to come to terms with such a tragic event.
"We shouldn't jump to conclusions on this. There needs to be a full investigation, and actually the French authorities will probably lead that but we should be involved to find out exactly what went wrong."
The Foreign Office said it was working closely with French authorities and was also assisting the passengers involved and their relatives.
West Mercia Police said it was supporting the families of the children and members of the staff involved and family liaison officers had been put in place at the school.
People in the UK who are worried about relatives and friends should call the Foreign Office's helpline on 0207 008 1500.