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Monday 21 August 2017

Irish students escape with lives as 13 women die in bus horror

Three Irish injured as coach filled with students returning from festival smashes into car

A body is removed Photo: Reuters
A body is removed Photo: Reuters
The wreckage of the bus is inspected Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Forensic officers at the scene of the crash in Freginals Photo: AFP/Getty Images

As many as three Irish students are believed to have been onboard a coach that crashed in Spain, in which 13 young women have died.

The accident occurred early yesterday morning as a group of exchange students travelled back to the University of Barcelona after visiting a festival in Valencia.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said two Irish people were injured in the incident and are being treated for non-life threatening injuries.

The nationalities of the 13 women who were killed have not yet been released.

The trip was one of a number of monthly trips organised by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), which put on five buses to bring students to a festival in Valencia, departing at 7am on Saturday.

The bus that crashed was the last one to leave Valencia for the return trip to Barcelona. The crash took place near the town of Freginals, halfway between Valencia and Barcelona.

Tragic

It is believed to be one of the worst crashes in Spain in recent years. Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan described the horror crash as "a truly tragic incident" and said he was awaiting the details of those who lost their lives.

"We are waiting on the authorities to pass on that information before we can definitively rule out further Irish involvement," he said.

Spain's national TV network reported that the coach collided with an oncoming car. The passengers in the car are also said to be injured.

Irish Ambassador to Spain David Cooney said officials have contacted the families of the two injured students.

"As far as we are aware, the situation is reasonably good. They are in separate hospitals some distance away from each other along the coast of Catalonia. We will be maintaining contact with the families to see what, if any, consular assistance is required," he said.

A spokesperson for University College Cork last night confirmed three of its students were involved in the accident but added that all avoided serious injury.

"Thankfully, all are fine. Two were uninjured and one sustained only minor injuries," they said.

It is understood that one student was treated in a Spanish hospital for cuts, bruises and shock.

All three UCC students were studying at the University of Barcelona. UCC says it has contacted the families of students involved to offer support and is liaising with the Spanish university where students were placed as part of the Erasmus exchange programme.

As well as Irish students, the bus was carrying British, Swiss, Peruvian, Turkish, Norwegian, German, Japanese, Mexican and Spanish youngsters.

Mexican exchange student Victor Pano Torres (21) was treated with a neck brace at a hotel near the crash scene where the less seriously-injured were taken.

"I was asleep and don't remember anything," he said.

"The accident woke me up. A friend was travelling in front of me but thankfully he's OK, too."

Local reports indicated that 63 people were caught up in the accident, 34 suffered injuries with 22 said to be in a serious condition in local hospitals. Three are said to be critical.

A team of forensic experts spent the day at the scene yesterday in a bid to identify what caused the accident. Two of the team are dental experts who have "experience of disasters".

The driver tested negative for alcohol and drug consumption. But police have said they are looking at a "human factor" that caused the accident. The driver, who is said to have years of experience, is set to appear before a judge today.

Spanish media reported that passengers on the other buses only became aware of the crash when a student on the wrecked coach sent a text message telling them what happened.

Once the message was received, panic quickly spread among the other students.

President of Catalonia's local council Carles Puigdemont said he had met one of the injured students, who came to Barcelona from Turkey. Mr Puigdemont said the young man "found himself upset, more upset than you can imagine, after hearing the news of the deaths of his classmates."

Mayor of Freginals, Josep Rancero, said that the area where the crash occurred was "an accident black spot".

Nuria Ventura, the mayor of the nearby town of Ulldecona, said that a five-kilometre stretch of the road was a frequent site of accidents.

Meanwhile, Spain's national student union and the European Students' Union paid their condolences to the victims and their families, saying: "13 dreams have been cut short."

"No limits exist in sharing the pain of the families of our classmates," they said.

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