France stunned by deadly school bus crash

Firefighters and police work at the site of the accident in Millas, southern France, where a train crashed into a school bus at a level crossing. (AFP)
Updated 15 December 2017
0

France stunned by deadly school bus crash

MILLAS, France: French authorities were investigating Friday how a train was able to smash into a school bus, killing six children and ripping their vehicle in half in an accident that has stunned the local community.
Four teenagers died on Thursday in the collision at a level crossing in the village of Millas near the southern city of Perpignan, with the toll rising Friday when two 11-year-old girls succumbed to their injuries.
Fourteen other children were injured when the bus was torn in two and the train pulled off its rails, in the worst accident involving a school bus in France for three decades.
Investigators only finished identifying the dead teenagers overnight due to the severity of their injuries, with the mayor of the neighboring village describing the scene as “a vision of horror.”
The accident site was sealed off as police examined whether a technical or human error was to blame.
It has not been confirmed whether the automatic barriers were open at the time of the crash, though national rail operator SNCF said the crossing was “functioning normally,” citing witnesses.
“The families of those caught up in the accident are going through something absolutely terrible,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who visited Millas on Thursday.
Most of the students were from the local Christian Bourquin junior high school, where pupils were in shock as they headed in on Friday morning.
“I went to sleep at two or three in the morning. I was watching the news, I wasn’t able to sleep,” said teenager Lorena Garcies, dressed in black.
Her cousin and another friend were on the bus, but escaped with broken bones and trauma.
“I’m trying to be strong for them,” she said.
The female driver of the bus was among the injured and has not yet been questioned, but Perpignan prosecutor Jean-Jacques Fagni said investigators had spoken to the train driver.
“There was good visibility,” said regional chief Carole Delga.
“This level crossing wasn’t really dangerous and no technical problems had been raised,” she told Europe 1 radio.
She nonetheless pledged to modernize dangerous crossings, as a debate broke out about whether a technical error had caused the crash.
Samuel Conegero, the father of one of the children, said his son took a photo showing “the barriers were lifted” when the bus drove into the path of the incoming train.
“We will obviously consider malfunctions of all kinds,” senior police official Jean Valery Letterman said. “This will take time.”
At the school, Sabrina Mesas, hugging her stunned daughter Lilou whose best friend was lightly injured in the crash, was struggling to stop fight back tears.
“We’re in total shock this morning,” Mesas said. “It’s important that everyone is together, that they can talk, to put into words what has happened.”
A psychological support team was on site and students were encouraged to come into school — authorities do not want them to face the tragedy alone, said Abdelkader Taoui, one of the doctors sent to help.
Teachers have also been left stunned. “I don’t even know how to get on with things,” said Jordi Sales, who teaches Catalan and Spanish at the school near the Spanish border.
Robert Olive, mayor of neighboring Saint-Feliu-d’Amont, described the scene as a “vision of horror.”
The accident is the worst involving a school bus in France since 1987, when 53 people including 44 children were killed in a pile-up involving two coaches that were taking students to a summer camp.
France has also seen multiple deadly rail accidents in recent years, including the derailment of a high-speed TGV train that was being tested in 2015, killing 11 people onboard.
In 2013, seven people were killed when a commuter train slammed into a station south of Paris. A signaling defect was blamed for that crash.


European court to hear case on stopping Brexit

Updated 16 min 2 sec ago
0

European court to hear case on stopping Brexit

LONDON: The European Court of Justice will at the end of this month begin hearing a legal challenge brought by anti-Brexit campaigners to force the government to spell out how Britain could revoke its notice to leave the EU.
The hearing comes after the British government was refused permission Tuesday to appeal to the UK Supreme Court over the case, amid growing calls for Prime Minister Theresa May to hold a second referendum on Brexit.
"The best, the really compelling, the objective evidence that all options are still on the table is the desperation with which the government acted to try and block MPs from seeing the clear path to remain," said Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer who has spearheaded the legal challenge.
The Supreme Court rejected a bid from the government for permission to appeal against a lower court ruling asking the European Court to spell out "whether, when and how" Britain can unilaterally revoke its notice to leave the EU, which would see the UK pull out on March 29.
Labour, Scottish nationalist and Green members of the British, Scottish and European parliaments brought the case through the highest civil court in Scotland.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled in September to refer the question to the Court of Justice of the EU.
A hearing at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is set for November 27.
The British government applied to the Court of Session for permission to appeal against the ruling to the higher UK-wide Supreme Court, but the application was rejected.
The government then applied directly to the Supreme Court itself for permission to appeal.
But in refusing that permission on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said the Court of Session's ruling was "preliminary" and the Scottish court would still have to reach a judgement of its own after receiving the CJEU's guidance.
Britain invoked Article 50, its two-year notice of intention to withdraw from the EU, in March 2017.