British teacher dies in school coach crash in France

A teacher has been killed and more than 20 people hurt after a coach crashed while bringing a Worcestershire school party home from a skiing trip in Italy.

Pupils from Alvechurch School were among 49 people on the coach, which crashed near Chalons-en-Champagne, in northern France, early on Sunday.

Relatives of Peter Rippington, 59, who died, said they were "devastated".

Four people are still in hospital with serious injuries, including a girl who was flown to Paris for treatment.

The girl, thought to be in her early teens, was taken by helicopter to a specialist children's hospital in the French capital.

Image caption Peter Rippington died in the crash and his wife, Sharon, was also hurt

Mr Rippington's relatives said they were "extremely concerned" for the teacher's wife, Sharon, who was also injured in the accident. His daughter, Amy, was also hurt.

Travel company Interski, which organised the trip, said the coach, which was returning to the UK from the Val d'Aosta in Italy left the motorway and came to rest at the bottom of an embankment.

The firm said the accident happened at about 02:30 GMT (03:30 local time) on the A26 motorway, at Chalons-en-Champagne, not far from the city of Reims.

The coach driver tested negative for alcohol or drugs but police are investigating the possibility that he simply fell asleep at the wheel.

There had been two coaches in the party travelling back to Calais, and the other one has arrived back at the school.

There had been 20 adults - including two drivers - and 29 schoolchildren on board.

The Foreign Office said it was working closely with French authorities as they conducted an investigation into the accident, and was also assisting the passengers involved and their relatives.

In a statement, relatives of Mr Rippington 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."

Alvechurch is a Church of England middle school, with pupils' ages ranging from nine to 13.

Several people came to the school to lay flowers and pay tributes to the teacher.

Kimberley Thornton, 23, from Redditch, said Mr Rippington had been her form tutor, describing him as "absolutely amazing".

"He was one of the only teachers I remember from the school. He was just a really different kind of person, I could talk to him," she said.

Michael Darby, 16, who was taught sports for four years by the teacher, came to the school with his mother to lay flowers for the teacher he described as "a wonderful man" who was "firm but fair".

The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, the Archbishop of Birmingham, said he was "shocked" by the crash.

Image caption The Foreign Office's helpline is 0207 008 1500

"I pray that God will give strength and comfort to the children's anxious families and to those affected by the death of their teacher," he said.

Meanwhile, West Mercia Police said it was doing all it could to support and help the families of the children and members of the staff involved.

It said specially trained family liaison officers had been put in place at the school.

The school is expected to open as as planned on Monday.

Councillor June Griffiths said the community was "in shock" following the accident.

"The school has been going on these holidays and has been waving the children goodbye year after year and they've been coming back safely," she said.

Driver questioned

The BBC's Hugh Schofield said the driver, who suffered minor injuries, was being held by police in Chalons-en-Champagne.

He said the driver had tested negative for alcohol and drugs, and the electronic log book on the coach, which recorded the number of hours driven, showed nothing unusual.

He said: "They are working on the assumption that the driver dozed off at the wheel.

"It is expected that at some point in the next day or two he will be placed under formal investigation for involuntarily causing death and injury.

"He should then be allowed to return home."

Interski said in astatement on its websitethat those unhurt were being cared for at a sports complex in the region. They were receiving attention from the French Red Cross, which was providing psychological support.

Six ski instructors from the company were among those 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 those who had been bereaved.

"We are also obviously highly concerned for the welfare of the injured passengers and all others involved in this incident," he said, adding that the firm was liaising with Interski and the Foreign Office.

People in the UK who are worried about relatives and friends should call the Foreign Office's helpline on 0207 008 1500.

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