Coach driver hailed as hero after sacrificing himself to save passengers

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.

A coach driver who was killed when he steered his coach into roadside rocks in the Alps has been hailed as a hero, Sky News reported.

An inquest heard that Maurice Wrightson, who was aged 63 at the time of the crash on April 16, 2013, would have known he would take the ‘full force of the collision’ after he made the life-saving decision to crash his coach as his brakes failed on the D211 road from ski resort Alpe d’Huez.

Maurice was travelling with British resort staff and driving for Classic Coaches of County Durham, decided not to attempt a sharp turn as he approached the 21st hairpin bend.

“Maurice knew that failing to complete the manoeuvre would send the coach and all its 51 passengers off the road and down the mountain side,” said coroner Tony Brown.

“He took the brave decision to steer the coach directly into the boulder rocks on the side of the road. It would have been obvious to Maurice as driver, that by driving into the boulders in order to keep the coach on the road, he would receive the full force of the collision.”

Following the crash, fire took hold of the cabin as passengers tried to escape through broken windows. The inquest heard one woman, 19-year-old Catrin Pugh, had become set on fire as the ‘complete inferno’ engulfed the coach. She suffered burns to 96% of her body, but is alive today despite an estimated one in 1,000 chance of survival, and has praised the heroic actions of Maurice.

Co-driver Nathan Woodland, 39, said Mr Wrightson had not struggled with the steep, winding road, and was not speeding. However, he said they felt the coach twitch after going through a small chicane.

He said: “The gradient was not that steep compared to other bits, but suddenly Maurice looked at me with a very shocked look on his face.

“He said, ‘It’s not stopping us, it’s not stopping us’. I could tell immediately something was very wrong.”

Nathan was thrown back several rows following the impact. Four people were seriously injured.

The jury at the hearing in Berwick concluded Mr Wrightson died as a result of multiple injuries in a road traffic accident. Investigators in France said the driver ‘undoubtedly prevented’ the more serious implications of the bus coming off the road.

Their report said the brake failure was caused by its pads becoming destroyed due to ‘excessive heating’ resulting from the ‘poor condition of the hydraulic retarder.’