Page last updated at 20:53 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Cornwall coach crash driver 'avoided bigger tragedy'

The coach rolled on to its side after skidding

A coach driver whose vehicle overturned in icy conditions, killing two women and injuring nearly 50 people, has been praised for avoiding a bigger tragedy.

The coach rolled on to its side after skidding on ice on an ungritted road in Townshend, near Hayle, Cornwall.

The dead women have been named as Irene Spencer, 78, and Patricia Pryor, 70, who were both from Camborne.

Witnesses said the driver avoided trees while skidding, and he got people out through the vehicle's emergency exits.

The coach was returning from a trip organised by local members of the Women's Institute (WI) to see Christmas lights at Mousehole, about 14 miles (23km) away, when the crash happened at 2215 GMT on Tuesday.

It was sheet ice all the way down. It was like a mirror
Jane Moore

It left the road as it went down a hill, hit a tree and ploughed through a hedge before coming to a stop on its side, Devon and Cornwall Police said.

The first police car at the scene also skidded and crashed into the coach, owned by local firm Williams Travel.

Jane Moore, who lives near to the crash scene and helped walking wounded passengers, said the driver managed to steer the vehicle between two trees as it slid.

She said: "There was no chance he could do anything but crash.

"He managed to avoid two huge trees and go through the gap, which saved a lot of them, I think."

Mrs Moore said the driver "did fantastically because there was no way he could have done anything to avoid it".

She said: "It was sheet ice all the way down. It was like a mirror."

Crashed coach
The driver opened an emergency exit of the coach's roof

The injured bus passengers were taken to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. An RAF rescue helicopter was called in from RMB Chivenor in Devon to help ferry them to hospital.

Of the 47 people hurt, four were described as seriously injured and the rest were "walking wounded".

The National Federation of Women's Institutes confirmed that a small group of WI members was on board.

Mrs Moore's husband, George, daughters, Georgie, 19, and Sophia, 15, and Georgie's boyfriend, Mike Crump, 23, also went to the aid of stricken passengers.

Many of the passengers took refuge at the Moore family home until they were taken to hospital.

Georgie Moore said the driver, thought to be in his 50s, was "so good" in helping to rescue passengers despite having a lump the size of a "golf ball" on his head and a graze.

She said: "Once the crash happened, he kicked out the roof and got the passengers out. He was really calm and got everybody off before himself."

The Rev Mike Firbank of Camborne Parish Church, told BBC News: "It's very sad. Camborne is tight-knit community.

"People are in shock that people who went out for a jolly met with tragedy on the way back."

Both the police car and the coach have been removed by a recovery unit.

Police have advised motorists not to drive overnight unless absolutely necessary because more icy weather is forecast.

Officers said: "The freezing temperatures may last well past the [Thursday] morning rush hour with some areas not expecting temperatures to reach above freezing until after 0900."

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Two dead, 47 hurt in coach crash
23 Dec 09 |  Cornwall
Passengers say crash 'horrific'
23 Dec 09 |  Cornwall

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