Britons involved in fatal Alps coach crash

A coach carrying young British seasonal workers crashed into a cliff face near the resort of Alpe d'Huez in the French Alps, leaving one person dead and several others seriously injured, police reported on Tuesday.

Britons involved in fatal Alps coach crash
A file photo of the sharply-winding descent from the Alpe d'Huez ski resort. Photo: Soumei Baba

The circumstances surrounding the crash are not yet clear but it occurred on the winding road down from the Alpe d'Huez resort at around 1.45pm. 

The bus, which was carrying seasonal workers from the Brighton based company Skibound, hit a cliff before bursting into flames. The driver of the bus, which belonged to Stanley Coaches based in County Durham in the north of England, died in the accident. The name and nationality of the driver has not been released. There were 51 passengers on board.

Here is a recap of events as they unfolded:

18:42 – This is not the first time this winter that seasonal workers for Skibound have been involved in tragedy at the Alpe d'Huez resort. In January The Local reported the death of 19-year-old Lucy Sallis from Bognor Regis who drowned in a pool at the resort.

Furthermore, a statement from UK coach operator TGM has confirmed the following:

"One of its Classic Coach chartered services, carrying 51 British passengers on behalf of tour operator TUI, was involved in an accident in the Alps near Grenoble at around 1.45pm today (16 April 2013).

Heath Williams, managing director of TGM, said: “We are clearly shocked by this accident and our thoughts are with the family and friends of those involved. We have had unconfirmed reports from the scene of the incident however are awaiting official confirmation relating to those involved.

“It is too early to say what caused the accident, however, we have launched a full investigation and are working closely with the local authorities.  Our own safety specialist is also en route to the scene to support the investigation.

“We are offering our full support to the families of our drivers and to all those passengers who were involved in this tragic incident.”

18:35 – Its been confirmed to The Local that the passengers on the coach were seasonal workers returning to Britain. They had been working in the Alps throughout the winter working through Brighton based agency Skibound.

Statement from Skibound: 

"Skibound regrets to confirm that a coach travelling from the resort of Alpe d'Huez was involved in an incident, 65 kms from Grenoble in France at approximately 13.45 this afternoon local time. The 51 passengers travelling from Alpe d'Huez had been on their way home after finishing their ski season working for Skibound in various ski resorts across the French Alps. Also on board the coach were two drivers from the coach company.
"We have been informed that one person has been taken by air ambulance to the local hospital. All other passengers are accounted for and are being treated in local hospitals or have been evacuated to a village close by.

"A special assistance team from Skibound is in place to provide support to those affected by the incident.
"An emergency telephone line has been set up for relatives and friends to call – 01273 244 650.
"Our thoughts are with those who have been involved in the accident and their relatives. The names of any injured parties will not be released until all next of kin have been notified."

18:20 Frédéric Cuvilier, France's junior minister for transport is expected to arrive either at the scene or to the CHU in Grenoble this evening, according to Le Dauphiné Liberé.

18:13 – It has been reported that the trip was organised by Brighton based company Skibound – which according to its website, has been organizing skiing holidays to the French and Italian Alps, as well as North America, for 28 years". This has not been confirmed however and the press officer for Skibound is currently not contactable.

The coach, which is believed to have had two drivers on board, involved is believed to have belonged to Stanley Coaches from County Durham in the north of England.

The bend where the bus crashed was the last hairpin bend on the road down the mountain from the resort.

18:02 – British Ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts is on his way to the scene of the crash with consular staff.

17:52 British ski instructor Stuart Adamson from Masterclass British Ski School told The Local: "The resort is in shock. We don't get many fatalities on the roads. French roads are often covered in wreaths where people have died but not here. Its not a notorious road for accidents. Its not a race track, each turn has to be carefully negotiated. Its like an obstacle course."

17:48 – Although initial reports in the French media suggested the passengers were holiday makers returning from a week in the Alps, one worker in the resort told The Local the passengers on the bus may well have been seasonal workers, returning to the UK after working in the Alps during the winter season.

The Alpe d'Huez ski resort (marked A), with the surrounding cities of Grenoble (France),

Geneva (Switzerland) and Genoa (Italy). Google Maps

17:35 – More photos emerging which show the coach engulfed in flames, with smoke billowing in to the sky as firefighters attempt to extinguish the blaze.

17:17 – The four seriously injured passengers have been taken to University Hospital in Grenoble. It's the same hospital where medics treated the young daughter of Saad al-Hilli, who was gunned down with his wife, her mother and a French cyclist in September last year.

17:13 – Local newspaper Le Dauphiné Libere have published photographs from the scene that show the burnt out shell of the bus, which appears to have skidded off the road and into the cliff. The images also show emergency service crews loading the injured onto helicopters and into ambulances to take them to hospital. Several dazed young people are pictured at the scene.

17:11 – A statement from Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office said: "We are aware of a tragic incident involving British nationals in the Isere region of southern France.

"We are in touch with the local authorities and are providing consular assistance."

17:00 – The main road leading to and from the Alpe d'Huez resort is notorious for its steepness and sharp turns. It's reputation has somewhat of a mythical status and will feature in this year's Tour de France.

This aerial satellite photo shows a possible route down the mountainside from L'Alpe d'Huez (Point A) to Avenue des Jardins, (Point B).

16:56 – Police spokesman quoted by Le Parisien. says: "One dead, 'a priori' the driver, three seriously injured and 17 others injured".

16:41 – Still a certain amount confusion over the number of dead. AFP claim police have revised the death toll to one, not three. AFP say the one dead passenger is believed to be the coach driver although this has not yet been confirmed.

16:38 – The local gendarmerie in Alpe d’Huez has just told The Local that rescue workers are still at the scene treating the injured. The officer confirmed that the passengers on the coach were “young people” but that authorities had not further information on their ages. 

The officer said the cause of the accident could not be confirmed and reports that the vehicle’s breaks had failed were just “suppositions”.

The office told The Local the crash occurred when the bus hit the wall of a cliff at “turn 21” on the road down from the popular winter resort.

16:20 – French police have now confirmed that three people have died and four are seriously injured.  Helicopters have been brought in to take the most seriously injured passengers to hospital Others have been taken to hospital by ambulance.

16:15 – The ages of  the victims are not yet known but local newspaper Le Dauphiné said the bus was carrying young people, "who had been on holiday in the region for a week".

16:12 – AFP are reporting that four passengers on the coach are seriously injured and three have died, although local newspaper Le Dauphiné Liberé report that one person has been killed.

16:10  – The coach reportedly crashed into a cliff at around 3pm and then went up in flames. At least one injured person has been evacuated from the scene by helicopter.

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Dad’s ‘miracle escape’ after being buried by avalanche in French Alps

A man out walking with his family in the French Alps has made a miraculous escape from an avalanche after spending more than two and a half hours trapped under snow, rescuers said.

Dad's 'miracle escape' after being buried by avalanche in French Alps
Ski lifts in France are closed, but visitors and locals are free to enjoy other outdoor sports. Photo: AFP

The 50-year-old father was snowshoeing near the high-altitude Val d'Isere ski resort with his wife and two children on Thursday without anti-avalanche safety equipment.

“Thank to the mobilisation of nearly 100 people… the man was found alive after two hours and 40 minutes of searching,” the police for the local Savoie département announced on Twitter.

Because of the depth of the snow, rescue dogs were unable to detect a trace, but the man was eventually dug out by a specialised mountain police team which used a Wolfhound device to locate his mobile phone under the ice.

“I think it's a miracle,” Alexandre Grether from the PGHM rescue team told the France 3 local news channel, adding that the man was found 2.5 metres (eight feet) below the surface.

The chances of survival after more than 20 minutes in an avalanche are usually slim.

“He was protected by a tree, that's what prevented him from being crushed by all the ice that slid down. The snow had surrounded him, but he had a pocket of air,” he explained.

The victim is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a fracture to his hip.

The avalanche risk on Thursday was at its maximum – five on a scale of five – and rescuers urge people to always check the snow conditions before venturing out.

READ ALSO 'Whole season a write-off' – what next for France's ski resorts?

Ski lifts in the Alps, which have seen some of their heaviest snowfalls in years in January, are currently closed because of restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Visitors and locals are free to enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, but occupancy levels in hotels and chalets are way down and business owners and seasonal staff face serious hardships.

The government has promised an economic support package for the sector.