Tyne & Wear

Ashington driver 'crashed to save passengers' in French Alps

The remains of the coach Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The coach quickly became a "complete inferno", the inquest heard

A bus driver died when he deliberately crashed to save his passengers from plummeting off a road in the French Alps, an inquest has heard.

Maurice Wrightson drove into boulders on the narrow mountain road when he realised his brakes had failed.

Mr Wrightson, 63, from Ashington, died in the April 2013 crash and four of the 50 passengers were seriously injured.

French investigators said the driver "undoubtedly prevented" a more serious crash, Berwick Coroner's Court heard.

'Complete inferno'

The coach, which was carrying British staff from the French ski resort Alpe d'Huez, was approaching the 21st hairpin bend on the D211 road.

Nathan Woodland, 39, the co-driver of the coach operated by County Durham-based Classic Coaches, told the inquest he felt the bus twitch and quickly became aware something was wrong.

He said: "Suddenly Maurice looked at me with a very shocked look on his face.

"He said 'it's not stopping us'."

He said Mr Wrightson gripped the wheel very tightly and braced himself against his seat to apply more pressure to the brake.

Mr Woodland said: "I stepped into the aisle and shouted, 'grab a hold, hold tight'."

He then described how the coach smashed into the boulders and he was thrown a number of rows back.

'Remarkable courage'

As he picked himself up he saw people desperately trying to escape and flames begin to engulf the coach, which quickly turned into a "complete inferno".

He said the clothing of one woman, who was sitting behind the driver, caught fire as she was pulled from the bus by another passenger.

Speaking at the time, French transport minister Frederic Cuvillier said Mr Wrightson "showed remarkable courage" and avoided a "much heavier loss of life".

The inquest jury heard the French report concluded the brake failed as the pad had been "completely destroyed by excessive heating" due to the "poor condition of the hydraulic retarder".

The inquest continues.

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