11:18am Wednesday 17th April 2013
The driver of a coach which crashed in the French Alps has been branded a hero.
The 64-year-old man was killed in the accident as he drove home 51 employees from Brighton-based company Skibound.
The French deputy transport minister Frédéric Cuvillier praised the "remarkable courage" of the driver, which saved many lives.
A local policeman said some passengers escaped by jumping out the windows.
The driver is understood to have realised there was a problem seconds before the crash and warned the people onboard.
Mr Cuvillier told local newspapers: "All the witnesses we have spoken to confirmed this.
"His actions ensured the number of deaths wasn't larger."
What happened and what led to the accident, initially thought to be a brake failure, is still under investigation.
French news reports say 22 people were hospitalised. Four are thought to have been airlifted to Grenoble Hospital with serious injuries.
All of the workers are believed to be in their 20s.
British Amabassador to France Peter Ricketts said: "We have met young people who are obviously very shocked
"With the minister we have given them assurances of our support.
"We are here with the consulate team to support the victims and ensure their quick return to the United Kingdom.
"We are in contact with the families and those who want to come to Grenoble."
UK travel organisation Abta said that the Britons were staff on their way home having been working for a Brighton-based ski company at Alpe d’Huez and other resorts.
In a statement Skibound, which operates from offices in Marine Parade, said last night: "Skibound has been informed that one person has died in the accident which happened earlier today in Alpe d’Huez.
"Regrettably this was one of the two British drivers taking the group of Skibound staff back to the UK at the end of the season.
"Twenty nine passengers have been taken to hospitals in the area, four of which are being treated for more serious injuries.
"The further twenty three passengers have escaped injury and are now with police and councillors in a local hotel.
"At the moment, Skibounds’ priority is to assist the victims of the accident and their relatives and to work with the authorities and medical assistance companies towards their eventual repatriation to the UK.
"The exact cause of the accident is as yet not known and we must await the report from the accident investigation team in France before any comment can be made.
"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 52 passengers travelling from Alpe d’Huez had been on their way home after finishing their ski season working for Skibound in Alpe d’Huez with the driver.
"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."
It is the third tragedy this season for the company.
In January, Lucy Sallis, from Bognor, who worked for Skibound, died at Alpe d’Huez after jumping into a swimming pool late at night.
In March, schoolgirl Poonam Bhattal, 13, from Slough, died after falling from a chairlift in Claviere on a trip organised by Skibound.
Do you know anyone travelling on the coach? Call Anna Roberts on 01273 544539.
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