NEWS

7 schoolchildren killed in crash

Seven teenagers from central Greece on a school trip to Athens for the last day of the Paralympic Games were killed yesterday morning when a speeding truck smashed into their coach on a notorious stretch of the main highway linking northern and southern Greece. Twenty-six of the 37 15- and 16-year-olds on the bus and all four teachers from the Farkadona senior high school near Trikala were injured in the crash on a coastal bend near Asproneri, 173 kilometers (107 miles) northwest of Athens. Three of the schoolchildren who were more seriously hurt – a boy whose left hand was severed and two girls who suffered head injuries – were hospitalized, out of danger, in Athens and Larissa. Both drivers survived without a scratch, and were arrested. Traffic police said the accident occurred at 9.40 a.m. when the southbound bus – the second in a convoy of three specially chartered long-distance coaches – was hit by an oncoming truck and trailer carrying a load of glass panels to Thessaloniki. According to initial reports – with a traffic police investigation pending – truckdriver Antonis Pardalakis, 60, was traveling at 95 kilometers per hour, nearly double the 50kph speed limit, when he lost control on the bend and slewed into the opposite lane. The first coach just managed to avoid the truck’s trailer, which struck the second bus driven by Dimitris Peslis, 21, and knocked it over. At that point of the national highway, there is only one lane on either side with no central barrier. «The truck appeared to be going far too fast,» eyewitness Michalis Kapsalas, who saw the accident from his shop a few dozen meters from the scene of the crash, told Kathimerini. «It was all over in seconds. There was wreckage, blood and screams all over the place. Then the fire brigade came and started to take out the children.» Kapsalas said another two minor accidents occurred in the same area just before and just after the crash. «Not a single day passes without something serious happening here. For years, officials have been promising to take action, and for years we have been mourning victims.» Local fire brigade chief Athanassios Kontokostas said 65 firemen from Lamia, Kamena Vourla and Aghios Constantinos rushed to the scene, together with 16 ambulances from Athens, Lamia and Halkida. «We immediately started to extract the children, cutting through twisted metal where necessary and offering first aid to the injured. We had finished in 30 minutes. The seven victims were in the back of the coach, which absorbed most of the force of the crash,» he said. The victims were identified as Christos Bourazelis, Katerina Litsiou, Stefania Kalyva, Costas Tellios, Evgenia Sarafi, Apostolos Economopoulos and Yiannis Kamatselos. Experts told Kathimerini that the glass panels appeared to have been badly loaded onto the truck. A Lamia prosecutor ordered the arrest of the Cretan glass company official who was responsible for the loading. The government expressed deep sorrow at the accident, and promised a speedy investigation. The health, education and public order ministers visited the site of the crash. President Costis Stephanopoulos wrote to the mayor of Farkadona to convey «the sorrow of all Greeks, including myself,» to the families of the victims. All the country’s schools will be closed tomorrow in mourning for the accident, the Education Ministry said. ‘New road by late 2007’ Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias hosted a press conference shortly after the bus accident yesterday, promising to push ahead with construction of a new highway in the area that will replace the narrow road between Kammena Vourla and Aghios Constantinos, where the accident occurred. He conceded that the project was long overdue, but avoided going into the details of why that was the case. «Unfortunately, between 80 and 100 people are killed every year, and twice as many injured in the area,» Souflias said. «As soon as possible, this stretch of the road must be turned into a properly functioning, modern highway.» The minister promised that the new road would be delivered «by October 2007, at the latest.» He added, however, that the road was in good condition, with a clearly signposted speed limit of 50 kilometers per hour.