TERRIFIED children feared they “would die” when a bus driver “on his first day” crashed into a railway bridge tearing the roof completely off.
The double-decker smashed into the bridge on the way to school at 8.12am this morning – with parents claiming the driver was unfamiliar with the route.
Five children were taken to hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries – with two others also needing hospital treatment.
Another 13 were treated at the scene of the crash, in Winchester, Hampshire, which police described as a “serious collision”.
Dramatic pictures from the site show the bus wedged underneath the bridge – with the top deck completely destroyed.
Parents claimed the driver was “unfamiliar” with the route, with one suggesting it was his “first day”.
Stagecoach said the driver was “experienced” but could not confirm if he had driven that route before.
One man, who did not wish to be named, said: “I think it was his first day – that is what everyone down here is saying.
“There were a lot of people gathered around and it seems to be he was very new to the job.”
Year 11 student Robert, 15, was on the bottom deck at the front of the bus by the stairs and said fellow pupils suffered head and neck injuries.
He described how those who were seriously hurt were laid out on the road afterwards receiving treatment.
Robert, from Kings Worthy, near the site of the crash in Winchester, told BBC Radio Solent: “It’s not a bridge we’ve ever gone under, but there are other bridges that we’ve been under and I initially thought we were going under one of them.
“I thought we had hit the side of the tunnel. The bus came to a very strong stop.
“I looked and there was glass down the stairs next to me, the roof of the bus had fallen down the side and there were cables hanging down.
I’m shaking, I’m trying to do stuff to take my mind off it. I’m still shaking
“The lights had gone off so I looked upstairs and people started coming down but you couldn’t see up there because it was dark.
“I saw people with cuts on their neck, mainly minor injuries. A lot of head or neck injuries, but there were people with worse injuries.”
Robert added: “I was on my phone, I never pay attention because normally it’s just a boring bus ride to school.
“I’m shaking, I’m trying to do stuff to take my mind off it. I’m still shaking.
“Some people were panicking but most people were calm because a lot of people were in shock, they didn’t realise what was going on – personally neither did I.
“Then once we got out the bus and looked back at the tunnel it hit a lot of people what had happened and they could see people lying down with really bad injuries.
“That’s when a lot of people started to break down.”
Schoolgirl Zoe Kierans told the BBC: “We were driving to school on the bus just like normal and we were going the wrong route but none of us noticed because we were all chatting.
“Then we suddenly hit the top of the tunnel. Everything fell in on the top… there was glass everywhere and everyone started screaming.”
One woman, who lives just yards from the crash scene, said she heard an “awful crunch” as the bus smashed into the bridge and rushed to help screaming children.
She said: “I heard an awful crunch and thought maybe a lorry had gone into the bridge because that’s happened once before.
“But then I heard screaming, wailing, and I knew something wasn’t right.
“When I went through the debris, I then saw a bus and children everywhere in a state. I walked through and just started helping.”
I heard an awful crunch… then I heard screaming, wailing, and I knew something wasn’t right
One parent, whose two children were injured, claimed the driver was new and “unfamiliar with the route”.
ITV reporter Dan Rivers said: “Spoke to parent of two injured children – minor head injuries and one with leg injuries – both minor thank goodness. Both said it was a new driver unfamiliar with route.”
A man, who owns a business on the road and did not want to be named, said: “The children were apparently telling the driver it wasn’t their usual route and kept shouting at him telling him the bridge was too low and he wouldn’t be able to get through.”
Dog walker Eliza Bruml added: “The whole top of the bus has been ripped off so there are no windows on the top.
“The ambulance lady was saying that all the children were braced as they knew it wasn’t going to fit through.”
The children all attend the Henry Beaufort secondary school, which is based around a mile away from the scene of the crash.
A school spokeswoman said: “Senior members of staff have been on the site this morning. They are there to support people.
“It’s a sad incident.”
Headteacher Sue Hearle said she was relieved none of their pupils had been killed but refused to speculate why the driver had taken a different route.
She said: “I do not want to speculate on the circumstances leading up to the crash but our thought go out to all those affected.”
Hampshire Police said: “All the students involved are aged between 11 and 16.
“We are working in cooperation with the school and Hampshire County Council children’s services to provide support to the students and their parents.”
Stagecoach South confirmed that one of its school buses had been involved in the incident.
“We are carrying out an internal investigation into the circumstances involved in the incident and we will continue to provide the emergency services with our full support,” it added.
Hampshire County Council tweeted that County Council officers are providing all support to the students who have been affected by the dramatic crash.
Jane Rutter, local parish and city councillor, said: “I’m as shocked as everyone to hear that a school bus has crashed into the railway bridge.
“Our hearts go out to the children and families involved – it seems a miracle that nobody was killed.
“We will of course be looking into exactly how this happened, and calling on the County Council to introduce new safety measures as a matter of extreme urgency.”
We are carrying out an internal investigation into the circumstances involved in the incident
Paul Haly, Resilience and Specialist Operations Manager at South Central Ambulance Service, said: “Thankfully, we were able to treat and discharge ten of the injured into the care of their parents, whilst only a further five children required further hospital treatment.
“As well as working collaboratively with our blue light partners, the senior leadership team from the school attended the scene, to provide additional support and welfare to the children and parents.”
Winchester’s MP Steve Brine has tweeted: “Every parent’s worst nightmare.
“Thanks you to emergency services on the scene and to school, parents and police for keeping me abreast of this situation.
“My prayers are with everyone affected.”
Meanwhile, a second school bus had its roof ripped off in Bristol by a low bridge in a chillingly similar incident at around 4.30pm.
The double-decker was empty apart from the driver when it collided with an arch in Frogmore Street.
Paul Stoodley, 47, witnessed the crash, which happened outside the Queenshilling nightclub where he lives and works.
He said: “I saw it approach the bridge and thought ‘this is not going to go well’, but the driver carried on anyway.
“It just about got under but then it got stuck and whole roof came off.”
The bridge and surrounding roads are expected to remain closed until a structural engineer can inspect the damage.
The double incidents come just days after five children were hospitalised when a car mounted the pavement and crashed into a primary school railings in London.
School kids were trapped under the vehicle and had to be dragged out by a brave passersby, according to eyewitnesses.