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School coach death crash man named

Published 29/06/2015

Photo issued by Richmond Coaches of their driver James
Photo issued by Richmond Coaches of their driver James "Geordie" Chance who was killed when a coach carrying 34 British school pupils crashed in Belgium.

A driver killed when a coach carrying 34 British school pupils crashed in Belgium has been named.

James "Geordie" Chance was the only fatality of the crash in Middelkerke in West Flanders although a 13-year-old boy suffered a fractured skull.

The grandfather of five, from Lisburn in County Antrim, was believed to have been sitting next to the coach's driver when it crashed into a motorway bridge.

The coach involved in the crash is owned by Richmond Coaches of Ballinderry Road, Lisburn, in Northern Ireland.

In a statement last night, the firm said: "Richmond Coaches confirms that one of its drivers sadly lost his life in today's crash in Belgium.

"The two drivers in their mid-fifties 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.

"Richmond Coaches would like to reassure all families of the children and teachers that none of the passengers have sustained life threatening injuries."

The company's director Brendan McKenna added that his "thoughts and prayers" were with all the families affected.

Lagan Valley Assembly member Edwin Poots said: "There's a great sense of shock in the local community at this tragic loss of life.

"Multiple questions remain about what happened but all that matters at the moment is this family is given the space and time to grieve and that all the injured make as quick a recovery as possible."

He also tweeted: "Tragic news from Belgium about Geordie Chance, my thoughts are with his family at this time, I trust the injured can make a good recovery."

Belgian police are now investigating the cause of the crash, a spokesman for Middelkerke town council confirmed.

Brentwood School in Essex confirmed the coach was carrying children aged between 11 and 13, and that one child was in intensive care with a head injury.

Six teachers were also on the coach which was travelling to Cologne in Germany when it crashed into a bridge in Middelkerke, West Flanders, and went off the road.

Pictures of the bus showed it lying on its side with the front destroyed.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness expressed his condolences.

"Very sad to learn of the coach crash in Belgium in which a driver from Lisburn has been killed," he tweeted. "Thoughts are with his family & those injured."

While Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: "Richmond Coaches is a well-known and well-respected business in our local community and I know this tragic news this morning would have devastated the McKenna family who own the business and all their employees," he said.

"This is a personal tragedy for the family of the Lisburn man who died and my thoughts and prayers are with them and also with the injured driver and all the others involved."

One teacher is thought to have suffered a broken collar bone in the collision that happened at around 9.45am local time (8.45am BST).

Speaking at a press conference, the Mayor of Middelkerke Janna Rommel-Opstaele confirmed one adult, believed to be the assistant driver, and two children were still in hospital.

He said the parents of the children in hospital were at their bedsides.

All of the children not in hospital were expected to have returned home last night.

The headteacher of Brentwood School, Ian Davies, said: "All of the children managed to walk off the coach.

"One of the children subsequently had a head injury. He had a scan and they found a small brain bleed as part of his fractured skull.

"Some of the children seem to be fairly relaxed and doing pretty normal things like swimming and playing football."

He also sent his condolences to the family of the coach driver, adding that he did not know if the company had been used by the school before.

The headmaster said he would like to thank and congratulate all the teachers who were there in what was a "terribly difficult situation".

The Foreign Office has confirmed that it was working with Belgian authorities to establish details of the incident.

In a statement, it 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. "

Brentwood School is a co-educational independent day and boarding school in Brentwood, Essex.

Founded in 1557 and established in 1558, the school has a Tudor schoolroom, a Victorian chapel and several Grade II listed buildings.

The school is set in over 72 acres of land in the centre of Brentwood.

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