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Northern Irish bus driver killed after Lisburn based coach carrying 34 English school children crashes in Belgium

Driver killed and assistant seriously injured as bus belonging to Richmond Coaches hits bridge pillar on Belgian motorway.

Published 28/06/2015

Rescue services work at the site where a bus carrying 34 British schoolchildren crashed off the E40 highway in Middelkerke, Belgium. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK.
Rescue services work at the site where a bus carrying 34 British schoolchildren crashed off the E40 highway in Middelkerke, Belgium. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK.
A rescue services worker carries students' backpacks at the site where a bus carrying 34 British schoolchildren crashed off the E40 highway in Middelkerke, Belgium. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK.
A rescue services worker carries students' backpacks at the site where a bus carrying 34 British schoolchildren crashed off the E40 highway in Middelkerke, Belgium. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK.
Bus belonging to Lisburn firm Richmond Coaches which crashed in Belgium while carrying 34 English school children. Twitter/Klass Danneel.
Brentwood School in Essex. A coach driver has died and an adult and a child were seriously injured after a bus carrying British schoolchildren crashed in Belgium. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire.
Ian Davies, Headmaster of Brentwood School, Essex. A coach driver has died and an adult and a child were seriously injured after a bus carrying British schoolchildren crashed in Belgium, a school spokesman said. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire.
A police officer points to the underside of a bus as he attends to the scene of the crash on a motorway in Middlekerke, Belgium on Sunday. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Fire and rescue vehicles line a highway as they attend to the Richmond Coaches bus which crashed on a motorway in Middlekerke, Belgium on Sunday. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Safety workers attend to the Richmond Coaches bus which crashed on a motorway in Middlekerke, Belgium on Sunday. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
A bus, which carried British schoolchildren, lays on its side under an overpass on a motorway in Middlekerke, Belgium, Sunday. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

A bus driver from Northern Ireland has died after a coach carrying English school children crashed on a motorway in Belgium.

The bus, which belongs to Lisburn firm Richmond Coaches, crashed shortly before 9am UK time on Sunday near Middelkerke, in West Flanders.

It was carrying 34 pupils and six teachers from Brentwood School in Essex along with two drivers from Northern Ireland.

It's understood that the children were all aged between 11 and 13 and were on their way to a theme park in the German city of Cologne.

"One driver has been killed, the other is seriously injured in the accident. Some of the children with light injuries have been taken to local medical centre," Janna Rommel-Opstaele, the mayor of the nearby coastal town of Middelkerke, told Reuters.

It's understood one of the children is currently receiving treatment in intensive care for serious head injuries; two teachers and three pupils are also believed to be in hospital.

Pictures from the scene show the coach lying on its side on a grass verge along the E40 motorway after it overturned following a collision with a motorway bridge support pillar.

In a statement, the school said: "We have been informed that the driver was killed in the collision and his assistant has been severely injured.

"Our thoughts are clearly with his family and all the families of the pupils and teachers involved.

"Two senior members of staff have travelled to Belgium this morning and as soon as we have more information we will inform everyone involved."

Safety workers attend to the Richmond Coach's bus which crashed on a motorway in Middlekerke, Belgium on Sunday. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Safety workers attend to the Richmond Coach's bus which crashed on a motorway in Middlekerke, Belgium on Sunday. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

A spokeswoman for the school further said that other children had been lucky to escape with less serious injuries, some suffering from broken bones and cuts.

"The rest of the pupils are being looked after in a municipal swimming pool. Many of them are completely uninjured and some are even playing football," she said.

The coach involved in the crash is owned by Richmond Coaches of Ballinderry Road, Lisburn, a spokesman said the firm was now trying to establish the identity of the driver and his assistant.

"Any incident involving a coach crash like this is clearly a tragedy," he added.

Local councillor Patrick Catney, who knows the family, described the crash as a "tragedy".

"This is so sad, it's so tragic," he said.

"This company is very long-established and has a great safety record - they only operate top of the line luxury coaches."

Mr Catney said his thoughts were with the family of the crash victim.

The spokesman for police in Middelkerke, in West Flanders, confirmed 42 British people had been in the crash.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said they are aware of the the crash and currently working with local authorities in order to establish details.

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