World | Europe

March 21, 2016

Spain Coach Crash: Seven Italians Among 13 People Killed

Injured British student describes aftermath of crash as Spanish authorities release nationalities of those killed
Rescue workers remove the coach after a crash on the AP-7 motorway in the province of Tarragona

Rescue workers remove the coach after a crash on the AP-7 motorway in the province of Tarragona

Authorities in Spain have released the nationalities of those killed in a coach crash on Sunday, as a British student who was injured described how she crawled out from the wreckage.

Thirteen people died in the crash on a motorway near Tarragona in the north-east of the country: seven Italians, two Germans, one Romanian, one French, one Uzbek and one Austrian. Jordi Jané, the Catalan interior minister, said three of the injured remained in a critical condition.

Most of the victims, who have not been named, were aged between 22 and 29 and were Erasmus exchange students.

At least 30 passengers were injured in the crash. Among the injured was 19-year-old Tallulah Lyons from Swindon, who is studying in Barcelona on an exchange programme organised by Southampton University.

Speaking to the BBC after fracturing vertebrae in the crash, she said: “I just remember waking up and people were on the floor. I was trying to crawl out with friends – and that’s when we realised some people were trapped. It took about two hours to get everyone out.”

It is understood that one of the other injured passengers had dual-British nationality. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “Consular staff have been deployed to visit a British national who was injured following the coach crash in Tarragona, and we remain in contact with the local authorities over the situation.”

A minute’s silence will be held in tribute to the victims at midday at the University of Barcelona, where most of those killed were studying.

The driver, who was questioned by police on Sunday, was in intensive care being treated for chest injuries. He was due to appear before a judge on Monday, but the hearing has been postponed, a legal source told AFP.

Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said two Irish students were injured in the crash.

Emergency services confirmed that the students on the coach represented 19 nationalities: France, the Netherlands, Finland, Hungary, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, the UK, Italy, Peru, Bulgaria, Poland, Ireland, Palestine, Japan and Ukraine.

Carles Puigdemont, the president of Catalonia, said the process of identification proved been difficult because the coach was one in a group of five returning to Barcelona after celebrating the Fallas festivities in Valencia, and there were no passenger lists of who was on which coach. He declared two days of mourning.

The driver lost control near Amposta, Tarragona, at about 6am on Sunday on a stretch of motorway between Barcelona and Valencia. The vehicle crossed the central reservation and collided with an oncoming car.

The coach driver was among the survivors and tested negative for drugs and alcohol. He has driven for the company that chartered the bus for 17 years and had never had an accident.

The son of the owner of the company that chartered the bus told Spain’s national radio station RNE that his father was driving another vehicle in front of the coach that crashed.

“All of a sudden, he stopped seeing it in his rear-view mirror,” said the son, named only as Raúl. “He stopped at the next service area, called the driver but he didn’t pick up.”

He said his father asked passengers in his bus to call those in the other vehicle and that is when he got news of the accident. “The driver is in a state of shock, but he’s OK physically,” he added.

The occupants of the other coaches in the party were unaware of the accident until they arrived in Barcelona.

Dídac Ramírez, the rector of the University of Barcelona, travelled to the scene to help identify the victims, some of whom were not carrying identity documents. He said it was likely that most of the students were at his university, one of four involved in organising the trip.

The stretch of motorway where the incident occurred is notorious. Núria Ventura, the mayor of nearby Ulldecona, said: “This is an accident black spot. There have been numerous accidents here,” while Jané added: “Everything points to human error being the cause of the accident, though it’s too early to say. There’s no reason to think there was a problem with the road itself.”

The Erasmus programme provides foreign exchange courses for students from countries within the 28-nation European Union. About 3 million students have taken part in the study abroad scheme since its inception, and Spain is one of the most popular destinations.

The University of Barcelona offered its condolences to the victims’ families in a statement on Twitter: “The #UniBarcelona sends its condolences to the families and relatives of the victims of today’s bus accident. We remain at your disposal for any further needs.”

Flags at the university were reportedly being flown at half-mast as a sign of respect towards the dead.

Erasmus Student Network Barcelona, an organisation representing Erasmus students throughout the city, confirmed it had organised the trip and that volunteers from its organisation were also on the coach.

The trip, which cost €20, had set off for Valencia on Saturday morning and participants were told to expect “the best show of fireworks, smoke and noise you’ve ever seen” throughout the day and evening. A slogan on the website reads: “Study hard, party harder.”

It was suggested in the publicity for the trip that the journey home could be spent sleeping, as the meet-up time for the return journey was 3:30am. The estimated arrival time in Barcelona had been 8am.

A statement said: “ESN Barcelona would like to convey our condolences and join the pain of the families, friends and relatives of the victims. We feel the deep loss. In the same way, we would like to express our sincere willingness to be as helpful as possible with the family, friends or institutions.”

The accident is one of the deadliest in Spain in recent years. In November 2014, a bus carrying pilgrims fell into a ravine in the south-east of the country, leaving 14 dead and another 41 injured.

Puigdemont was due to travel to Paris on Sunday but cancelled the trip to go to the site of the accident. He will lead five minutes’ silence on Monday in memory of the students at the University of Barcelona, accompanied by the city’s mayor, Ada Colau.

Text by Guardian
 

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