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Belgium bus crash leaves Northern Ireland grandfather dead and colleague crucially injured

By Rebecca Black

A Lisburn grandfather has died following a horror coach crash in Belgium.

James Chance was one of two drivers taking a group of 34 English schoolchildren and six teachers to a theme park in Germany.

But the fun trip turned to tragedy in the West Flanders region of Belgium yesterday at around 10am local time when the vehicle hit a motorway bridge pillar.

The other driver is also from Northern Ireland and has been named locally as Stephen Cardwell. He was seriously injured. Last night his condition was described as stable.

Both drivers are aged in their mid-50s.

Two of the children are in a serious condition in hospital, while 15 others suffered minor injuries.

Lisburn firm Richmond Coaches has confirmed that the vehicle belonged to its fleet.

It emerged last night that Mr Chance had not been driving the bus at the time of the crash.

His devastated family told UTV that they were left in limbo when news of the crash broke and that there was a fatality.

They were left to frantically call numerous organisations to determine who had died, before eventually learning it was their beloved father.

The family described Mr Chance as an experienced driver and a very family-orientated man.

It is understood Mr Chance is originally from Newcastle in England, but settled in Lisburn many years ago. He was known affectionately by his friends as Geordie.

Richmond Coaches released a statement last night confirming that one of its drivers had lost his life in Belgium.

"The coach was carrying a party of schoolchildren and teachers from Brentwood School in Essex," the firm said.

"The two drivers, in their mid-50s, were James Chance and Stephen Cardwell. Mr Cardwell remains in hospital, with his condition described as stable.

"Richmond Coaches were devastated to hear of the death of their second driver, Mr Chance, who was sitting in the courier seat at the time of the crash. Mr Chance's family have been informed of his death."

The company went on to reassure all the families of the children and teachers that none of the passengers had sustained life-threatening injuries.

Richmond Coaches director Brendan McKenna added: "Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families that have been affected by this tragic accident."

Transport has been organised for those passengers that wish to return to the UK.

Brothers Brendan and Aidan McKenna have been running the company since their father died in 2012.

A tight-knit community of coach drivers for various companies across Northern Ireland was also shaken from the news.

Many of the drivers know each other well from traversing the same routes across Europe.

Downshire Coach Travel tweeted its sympathies: "Sad news for our good friends at Richmond Coaches today. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness expressed his sympathies on Twitter. "Very sad to learn of the coach crash in Belgium in which a driver from Lisburn has been killed. Thoughts are with his family and those injured," he

Jeffrey Donaldson, the MP for the area, said that people have been left shocked by the tragedy.

"Richmond Coaches are a highly respected local business, and the McKenna family who own it are well liked," he said.

"This news coming on a Sunday morning must have been absolutely devastating for them and the families of their drivers involved in this terrible tragedy.

"My thoughts and prayers are with all of them."

Lisburn SDLP councillor Pat Catney is a friend of the McKenna family.

"I really want to express my sincere sympathies to the families of the injured," he said.

Mr Catney said Richmond Coaches was a highly regarded family firm and a source of pride for the area.

"This business was started by the current owners' father Gerry McKenna and has continued to flourish," he said.

"It has been expanding recently into England, the coaches are top of the range, the very best in safety and comfort.

"This is a very tragic accident and has devastated workers in the firm and people in the area.

He added: "Richmond Coaches are becoming an increasingly common sight all over the UK and the continent and are a source of great pride for local Lisburn people to see when they are overseas."

 

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