Why did it all end in tragedy?

LARGS ACADEMY remained open into the first week of the summer break for children and parents who sought counselling after the coach crash near Dijon in France last Thursday which claimed the life of one of its pupils.

The tragedy has led to renewed calls for schools to consider the use of budget airlines instead of risking lengthy road journeys to Europe. The planned trip to Barcelona, which led to 12 of the 43 pupils on board and three of the six teachers being injured, was scheduled to take 33 hours.

David McCluskey, one of the school's English teachers and a noted local trombonist, lost an arm in the accident, while Alan Sturrock, a physical education teacher, sustained leg injuries.

It was left to George Maxwell, the headteacher, to break the news to the parents of Katherine Fish, who was aged 15, that their daughter had died. "She lit up our lives every day," her parents said in a brief statement. The girl was not wearing a seat belt, it emerged, and this prompted further calls for their use to be made compulsory.

Mr Maxwell and John Travers, director of education for North Ayrshire, immediately flew out to visit the injured in hospital. As we went to press, two of the most seriously injured pupils were still in hospital in France and two pupils and three teachers were being treated in the plastic surgery unit of Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Mark Chisholm, one of two drivers on the trip who was behind the wheel at the time of the accident, is facing a charge of involuntary homicide and several of involuntary wounding. He had been involved in another incident in Northumberland while driving a school party from Dalkeith High.

Mr Travers paid tribute to the support given by French hospital staff and local people. A number of English-speaking teachers voluntarily came forward to offer their services as translators and to give general support.

The school was also able to call on its assistant head, Mary Rose Martin, who is a French speaker and a trained counsellor.

Mr Travers said the council would not be making any moves to review procedures for school trips until the police had concluded their investigation.

But others were not so reticent. Ann Hill, chief executive of the Scottish School Board Association, said: "The advisability of undertaking long-haul coach trips should be reconsidered now that budget airlines offer cheaper fares. Children and teachers could be flown to their destination where their drivers could be either local people or British drivers with experience of driving on the Continent."

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "Trips should be organised in such a way as to avoid having to drive in the early hours of the morning, since this is the peak period for drivers falling asleep at the wheel. I am not convinced that a relief driver can get proper rest on a moving vehicle."

Mr Chisholm has denied dozing off. He and his co-driver had flown to Luton Airport to meet the coach.

Rail journeys and the use of the new ferry service from Rosyth to Zeebrugge have also been proposed. But Judith Gillespie of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council noted: "Coaches are a base for school trips, allowing them to be loaded with all manner of belongings and making it easier to move around the school's destination. It only takes one plane to come down and you would be talking about 50 or 60 dead, not one."

The day after her comments a Russian aircraft taking a party of young people to Barcelona crashed in southern Germany killing more than 50 of them.

Leader, page 20The Big Issue, Friday

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