French coach crash: tributes paid to teacher killed on school ski trip
Police question driver after maths teacher Peter Rippington dies as coach veers off motorway and overturns near Reims
A coach driver was being questioned by French police after a coach carrying a party of British school children and their supervisors crashed near Reims, killing a teacher and leaving a teenage girl in a critical condition in hospital.
Peter Rippington, head of mathematics at Alvechurch middle school in Worcestershire, died in the accident, which occurred shortly before 3am on Sunday near the town of Châlons-en-Champagne, about 30 miles south of Reims. His wife was one of 22 adults and children to have suffered minor injuries when the coach, which had been carrying them back from a skiing holiday in the Italian Alps, veered off the motorway and overturned.
Four others were seriously injured, and a teenage girl was said by local officials to be in a critical condition.
In a statement, the Rippington family said they were "devastated", describing the 59-year-old as "a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher." Tributes poured in from friends and pupils. A bouquet left outside the school read: "You will be truly missed. You were a one of a kind teacher and you can never be replaced. You were funny and kind and always made everyone's day."
The coach, which had been chartered by ski company Interski Snowsport School with two drivers and 47 passengers on board, was returning to Birmingham from the Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps when it veered off the A26 in northern France and overturned. Images of the coach on its side and without its front window were shown on news channels. No other vehicle is believed to have been involved. In a statement, Interski said the coach was understood to have "veered from the motorway before coming to rest on its side at the foot of an embankment".
French police said the driver who at been at the wheel was being held on Sunday for questioning as part of an investigation into manslaughter and involuntary injury. No charges had been brought against the man, who was slightly injured. Christian de Rocquigny, the local prosecutor, had earlier said he had shown no sign of having drunk alcohol or taken drugs, but that the possibility that he had fallen asleep at the wheel was not being discounted.
Solus, the coach's Tamworth-based owners, said it was "extremely saddened" to hear of the accident and offered its "sincere condolences" to the Rippington family. It said it could not comment further.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was providing consular assistance and has set up a helpline: 020 7008 1500. Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said the ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, had seen many of the passengers and had "assured them that we are doing all we can to help them recover and get home".
He said: "Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with everyone involved in or affected by the tragic coach crash in Northern France. The French authorities are investigating the accident and we are working closely with them."
Twenty-nine children had been on board the coach. A spokeswoman for the Church of England school, whose pupils are aged between nine and 13, said: "We are liaising with the police and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office."
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