Possible causes — speed, not enough care, and inadequate police inspections en route

The teenagers were nearly home from their three-day excursion to Athens. For some of them, it may have been their first time away from their families. They were probably singing, with the usual pranks being played at the back of the bus. Everything happened in seconds. The bus crashed into a truck coming the other way, apparently when its load of plywood fell sideways onto the bus as it passed. Most of those killed were sitting on that side of the bus. The two cars traveling behind burst into flames, while another crashed into boulders at the side of the road, its occupants somehow managing to escape serious injury. The first to arrive were the ambulances, fire trucks, police and rescue teams, followed soon afterward by panic-stricken parents, relatives and friends of the coach’s occupants. Among the tears and the screams, a woman began clapping her hands and shouting to try and keep alive those who were seriously injured. A girl from the school who had canceled her holiday at the last minute arrived on the scene, sobbing. Driver admits blame The driver of the truck, Dimitris Dolas, 43, has reportedly said, «I am to blame for the massacre.» Although the exact cause has not yet been established, judicial expert Christos Glavopoulos, a mechanical engineer, told Kathimerini it appears the load had not been secured properly. «From what I can see from the television footage, two factors are clear: First, plywood boards are scattered all over the road behind the bus. If they had been fastened securely, they would not have fallen. Second, the bus’s windshield does not appear to have been smashed horizontally as were all the windows on the left side of the bus; moreover, the driver sustained only slight injuries. That means that he saw the danger and tried to swerve to the right, turning the vehicle into the cliff face, endangering his own life in order to avert the worst,» he said. Glavopoulos believes that the investigation should focus on whether the truckdriver carried out the required number of stops between the time he began his journey in Alexandroupolis and when he reached Tempe. Another factor is the speed at which he was traveling, for if the trailer swerved sideways, it means that it was unstable, a situation made worse by any increased speed of the truck. The third question is whether the traffic police have the right kind of training to be able to carry out proper inspections. «If the officers on duty at the highway toll posts had the right training in inspecting passing trucks, they would not have let this particular one continue its journey under those conditions,» said Glavopoulos. Sunday’s accident in the Vale of Tempe was the last among several that have occurred in recent decades involving high school children on their traditional yearly excursions, usually lasting three to five days, to different parts of the country. Not the first – In May 1972, 21 schoolgirls from a high school in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, drowned when their boat overturned off the coast of Georgioupolis, Hania, on the island. – In April 1985, 17 high school pupils from Aghioi Anargyroi, Attica, were seriously injured when their coach, on which they were traveling to the island of Corfu for a five-day holiday, collided with a truck outside Amphilochia, western Greece. – In March 1991, four pupils from Brahami senior high in Athens were killed when their bus fell off the Acheloos River bridge, outside Agrinio, in western Greece. – In October 1991, the driver of a coach carrying pupils from a technical high school in Volos suffered a heart attack and lost control of the bus, which plunged off a cliff. One teacher was killed and five pupils injured. The most recent tragedy involving a bus occurred in February of this year when an intercity bus from Thessaloniki crashed through a barrier on a bridge over the Aliakmon River in northern Greece, killing 16 people, including two small children.