Pupils at a secondary school in the Midlands were tonight numb with shock after a bus crash claimed the life of a 15-year-old boy and injured many others.
More than 30 children were treated in hospital after the bus travelling to Killina Presentation Secondary School overturned killing 15-year-old Michael White, from Clara in Co Offaly.
Carthagena Minnock, headteacher at Killina Presentation Secondary School, Rahan, near Tullamore said: “At first the atmosphere was one of shock and numbness as the news filtered into the school.”
The headteacher said a prayer service was held and counselling services had been offered in the school to help support students and staff.
“He was a third year student, a very bright, warm, witty, generous student, who had lots of friends in school and naturally there is a great sense of loss,” she said.
“We have said to students that obviously they will all experience different reactions from sadness initially, anger perhaps, a sense of loss, despair and that all of those reactions are valid.
“Each reaction is personal but as a school community and with the help of outside services we will support each other through this.”
There were no seatbelts fitted to the privately operated bus which overturned on the road from Clara to Rahan in Co Offaly shortly after 8am. But gardai said it was not legally required to be equipped with them.
The crash in Offaly comes less than a year after five teenage girls were killed in a bus crash on their way home from school in Navan, Co Meath last May.
Dr Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, said arrangements had recently been put in place to commemorate the memory of the five young girls.
“That another such bus tragedy should involve young people from another school in the diocese is something that will evoke both shock and grief,” Dr Smith said.
“I extend my deepest sympathy and prayerful support to the White family on the death of their son killed in this latest tragedy.”
He added: “It is a traumatic experience for the whole school community.”
Transport Minister Martin Cullen said all school buses will have seatbelts fitted by the end of this year.
“It is a very tragic and very sad day for the family and the school,” he said.
“All of the Bus Eireann buses will be fitted, I think they will be ready by September, and all of the subcontracted buses that deliver school children will be ready by the end of this year.”
Twenty of the most seriously injured from the schoolbus were taken to the Midlands Regional Hospital in Tullamore, and 14 others were treated in Mullingar hospital.
Peter Waters, manager of the Midlands Regional Hospital in Tullamore, said: “All patients have since been assessed and six have been admitted including the driver of the bus. Unfortunately, there was one fatality as a result of the accident and our thoughts are with the family at this time.”
A&E consultant at Tullamore hospital, Sean O’Rourke, said the injuries sustained were, in general, minor.
“One of the biggest problems was lacerations, with cuts caused by glass,” he said, adding two people required surgery.
The area around the privately operated schoolbus, whose rear axle lay some distance away from where it turned over, was sealed off by gardai.
An investigation into the single-vehicle crash was launched by gardai and Department of Transport officials.
Seamus Boland from the secondary school board confirmed the bus was not part of the official School Transport System.
“It is a bus that was privately organised by parents, there is a long bog road about two miles stretch and it just seemed to have an accident,” he said.
New safety regulations for pupils travelling on school buses were promised in the wake of the Co Meath crash.
The new regulations governing seat belts ensure every child will have a seat on vehicles on the School Bus Transport Scheme administered through the VEC by December 2006.
Education Minister Mary Hanafin offered her sincere condolences to the families of the students involved in the crash.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved family at this time. My deepest sympathy to them at this time of terrible grief,” she said.
“I also want to offer my sympathies to those who were injured in this crash and wish them a full and quick recovery.
“I have asked all support be made available through the NEPS (National Educational Psychological Service) to the school community of Rahan to assist them at this critical time.”