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Crash survivor hails driver who died saving passengers

Mr Wrightson smashed into rocks rather than attempt the corner when brakes failed.

The aftermath of the crash in April 2013.
The aftermath of the crash in April 2013. ITV News

A survivor of an Alps coach crash has hailed the "absolute hero" driver who died to save the lives of his passengers.

Catrin Pugh received 96% burns in the inferno that followed the crash, but credits her survival to driver Maurice Wrightson who decided to smash the crash into the mountainside rather than attempt a hairpin bend.

Mr Wrightson, 63, from Northumberland, was driving 50 British resort staff down a precarious road in the French Alps when his brakes failed.

Ms Pugh told ITV News: "The driver started panicking and you could hear him saying 'I've got no breaks, everyone hold on'.

"I remember seeing the valley in front of us and we were heading towards the drop.

"In my eyes that was the way we were going and the coach ended up being turned into the cliff face."

Catrin Pugh received 96% burns after a fire engulfed the coach after it crashed into the mountain.
Catrin Pugh received 96% burns after a fire engulfed the coach after it crashed into the mountain. ITV News

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

"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."

The bus had been descending the precarious D211 road from French ski resort Alpe d'Huez on April 16 2013.

Flames quickly engulfed the coach, turning it into "a complete inferno", with passengers desperately trying to escape through the broken windows and one woman being set on fire.

Maurice Wrightson has been hailed a hero.
Maurice Wrightson has been hailed a hero. ITV News

Co-driver Nathan Woodland, 39, who also worked for County Durham-based Classic Coaches, described Mr Wrightson as "old school and a very good driver".

He said Mr Wrightson began to grip the wheel very tightly and braced himself against his seat to apply more pressure to the brake.

He then described how the coach smashed into the boulders and he was thrown a number of rows back.

The jury at the coroner's court in Berwick concluded he had died as a result of multiple injuries in a road traffic accident.

Emergency services arrived around 25 minutes later, with four passengers being seriously injured.

French investigators said Mr Wrightson had "undoubtedly prevented" the more serious consequences of the vehicle leaving the road.

Their report said the cause had been "the failing of the main brake, the pads of which had been completely destroyed by excessive heating".

The jury heard this was a result of the "poor condition of the hydraulic retarder".

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