Seven Moroccans killed in bus crash in central France

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A bus crash in France's Loire Valley has left seven of the Moroccan passengers dead. 22 of the 32 on board were injured, four critically, after the bus smashed into a concrete pillar on the A10 near Blois in the small hours of yesterday morning.

The bus had departed Tiznit in South Morocco on Wednesday and was headed to the Parisian suburb of Les Mureaux. It had been hired by Aziz, a French company that provides buses to tourists and small traders heading between France and Morocco.

Media images show the vehicle's front end stuck several feet up the pilar, with the roof trapped against the top of the bridge it supported by the pillar. The entire wreck is left leaning at about a forty degree angle back towards the road, and has left the road at a fairly steep angle directly into the pillar. The remains of a trailer it was towing can be seen still attached at the rear of the coach. Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau, who visited the scene shortly after the accident, said that “The incredible state of the bus showed that the impact was extremely violent.”

The pictures showed the bus was in the livery of travel company Labat.

The French Interior Ministry took the rare step of activating an emergency plan to ensure rapid response from large numbers of rescuers and resources. The scene was attended by four helicopters, 140 firefighters and 25 police officers, who had to free multiple victims from the wreck. The A10 was closed off.

Six died immediately, and the seventh victim died shortly afterwards. All the deceased were adults, and included one of the two drivers, the other of whom was seriously injured. It is unclear which was driving at the time.

Investigators believe no other vehicles were involved, but the exact circumstances remain unclear. "It looks like a loss of control. Is this linked to a mechanical problem, drowsiness or a totally different cause?" Bussereau said at the scene. His ministry's accident investigation bureau will conduct a major investigation inquiry, and a separate investigation will be launched by local prosecuters.

One possible cause is that the driver fell asleep at the wheel. Investigators are also examining the bus to try to determine any sign of mechanical trouble. There was good weather in the region of the town of Suevres, where the accident occurred, and very little traffic was using the road at the time, thought to be around 2.50am (0050 GMT).

Morocco's King Mohammed VI has announced he will personally pay for care of the injured and repatriation of those killed. He also asked the ambassador to France to pass on his condolences.