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8:39pm UK, Sunday February 19, 2012
The family of a British teacher killed in a coach crash in northern France have said they are “devastated” – as it emerged his wife was among those injured in the accident.
Peter Rippington died and four others were seriously hurt when the bus flipped over and came to rest at the bottom of an embankment near the city of Reims.
The 59-year-old’s wife Sharon was injured in the crash, which involved 29 pupils from Alvechurch Church of England School in Worcestershire.
The school group were returning home from a half-term holiday in Italy’s popular Valle d’Aosta skiing region.
A 13-year-old is believed to be in a coma and reports said she has been airlifted to a Paris hospital.
The accident happened at 3am local time (2am GMT) on the A26 motorway near Reims in the Chalone-en-Champagne region.
The coach, owned by Solus Coaches, based in Tamworth, Staffordshire, left the motorway and fell down an embankment, ski company Interski confirmed.
Peter Rippington pictured with his wife Sharon
In a statement, Mr Rippington’s family said: “We 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.”
A total of 19 other people have minor injuries, the Foreign Office said.
There were two coaches on the school skiing trip – the one carrying girls was involved in the accident.
The coach carrying male pupils has returned to the Worcestershire school.
The driver, who was slightly injured, has tested negative for drink or drugs and is being questioned by police. It is believed he may have fallen asleep at the wheel.
Travel company Interski said in a statement on its website that those who were unhurt were being cared for at a sports complex in the region.
Sky’s Becky Johnson, outside Alvechurch Church of England School, said it is “an extremely worrying time” for parents waiting for further news.
She added: “Children turning up at the school are visibly upset and their parents are trying to console them.”
A bus has been sent to pick up those able to travel home. It is expected to return to the school by 10pm this evening.
Speaking at a news conference, Liz Eyre from Worcestershire County Council said everyone was “extremely shocked and saddened” by the incident.
She added the school will open as normal on Monday, where teachers and trained staff will continue to offer support to those affected.
The UK Foreign Office is urgently investigating the incident.
:: People in the UK who are worried about relatives and friends should call the Foreign Office’s helpline on 0207 008 1500.