A British bus driver stopped his vehicle hurtling off a mountain road by sacrificing himself and smashing into boulder rocks to save his 51 passengers, an inquest has heard.
Maurice Wrightson, from Ashington, Northumberland, knew he would take the “full force of the collision” after he made the life-saving decision to crash his coach in the French Alps as his brakes failed on the D211 road from ski resort Alpe d’Huez.
The 63-year-old, who was travelling with British resort staff on 16 April 2013, decided not to attempt a sharp turn as he approached the 21st hairpin bend.
“Maurice knew that failing to complete the manoeuvre would send the coach and all its passengers off the road and down the mountain side,” said coroner Tony Brown.
“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.”
Following the crash, fire took hold of the cabin as passengers tried to escape through broken windows.
The inquest heard one woman had become set on fire as the “complete inferno” engulfed the coach.
Co-driver Nathan Woodland, 39, said Mr Wrightson had not struggled with the steep, winding road, and was not speeding. However, he said they felt the bus twitch after going through a small chicane.
He said: “The gradient was not that steep compared to other bits, but suddenly Maurice looked at me with a very shocked look on his face.
“He said, ‘It’s not stopping us, it’s not stopping us’. I could tell immediately something was very wrong.”
Mr Woodland, who also worked for Classic Coaches in County Durham, said he was thrown back several rows following the impact. Four people were seriously injured.
The jury at the hearing in Berwick concluded Mr Wrightson died as a result of multiple injuries in a road traffic accident.
Investigators in France said the hero driver “undoubtedly prevented” the more serious implications of the bus coming off the road.
Their report said the brake failure was caused by its pads becoming destroyed due to “excessive heating” resulting from the “poor condition of the hydraulic retarder”.