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BUS WAS GOING AT 60mph WHEN IT HIT BEND; SCOTS IN COACH HORROR.. Survivors in speed claim as smash kills two.

REPORTING TEAM: Cara Page, Lee-Ann Fullerton, Brian McCartney, Karen Bale, John Ferguson, Charlie Gall & Lynn Davidson

SURVIVORS of the National Express coach crash claimed last night that the bus was going flat out when it toppled over.

The driver, who was named as Philip Rooney, 47, from Carluke, Lanarkshire, was being held by police last night on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving.

Some passengers claimed it felt as though the coach was travelling at 80mph before the accident - but National Express last night said it was restricted to a top speed of 62mph.

A spokesman said coaches had been legally obliged to have a speed limiter fitted for about 15 years.

He added: "We do not know what speed the coach was going at this stage but it cannot have been doing more than 62mph."

James Lant, whose brother Michael Milbourne was among the survivors, said: "My brother did tell me there was a possibility the coach was going a bit too fast in wet conditions. The bus was doing about 80mph."

Two passengers died in hospital after the London-to-Aberdeen double-decker spun out of control and careered along a motorway slip road on its side. Most of those on board were Scots. As many as six victims had limbs torn off in the crash. The road at the scene was soaked with blood.

There were reports that a mother and two children, aged three and five, had lost limbs.

A rescue worker said: "It is almost impossible to think of a scenario so horrendous."

National Express said the majority of the people on the coach were heading for Glasgow but 23 were going to Aberdeen.

One of the dead was named as Chrissie Toner, 76, from Monifieth, near Dundee, the wife of former Dundee FC star Jimmy Toner.

The other passenger killed, a man in his late 20s, had yet to be identified.

All 67 passengers and two drivers on the bus were taken to hospital.

At least four children were among the injured. The youngest of them was just six months old and the oldest 14.

Ten people were still seriously ill last night. They included two children who were in intensive care at a specialist paediatric unit.

The driver escaped with minor injuries. He was arrested shortly after 11.30am yesterday and taken to a police station in Slough, Berkshire, for questioning.

The National Express 592 service left Victoria Station in London at 10.30pm on Wednesday.

It was due to arrive at Aberdeen at 10.25am yesterday after stopping at Heathrow, Carlisle, Hamilton, Glasgow and Dundee.

The crash happened at 11.45pm, shortly after the bus left Heathrow, on a slip road linking junction 4B of the eastbound M4 to junction 15 of the clockwise M25.

Some passengers said the coach was running half an hour late because of a delay in collecting luggage from the airport.

James Lant said: "My brother told me the driver might have been making up some time.

"The bus was doing about 80mph and it felt like it had burst a tyre. It went up on two wheels and skidded out of control."

Police are also looking into the possibility that the driver may have briefly fallen asleep at the wheel.

The bus was fitted with a device called an electronic stability programme (ESP). Officers believe it should have corrected any skid or over-steer - provided the driver was awake to slam on the brakes.

A Thames Valley Police source said: "If he had simply been going too fast and braked suddenly, the electronic braking system and ESP should have kicked in instantly and brought things under control.

"The driver's previous shifts, and what he had been doing while off duty over New Year, are being carefully checked. If he had a series of late nights over the holiday, the cumulative effect may have influenced this crash."

Seventeen fire engines, 26 ambulances and eight doctors raced to the scene of the accident.

Firefighters used cutting gear, airbags and heat-seeking cameras to rescue those trapped. Seven hospitals dealt with the casualties.

Trauma surgeon David Houlihan-Burne, who treated some victims, said many wounds were horrific.

He said: "There were spinal injuries, major head injuries and limb trauma.

"Many patients were clearly thrown or dragged along grass or mud because there was heavy contamination of the wounds.

"Whether they were ejected from the vehicle or not, I don't know. But the injuries were consistent with that." Mr Houlihan-Burne said some of the victims were left with limbs barely attached to their bodies.

Other survivors had severe fractures to the chest and hips.

Asked if he thought the passengers had been wearing seatbelts, Mr Houlihan-Burne replied: "It's very difficult to say.

"If that coach was sliding on its side and those arms were out of the window, those patients could easily have been wearing seatbelts."

Twenty-one of the passengers were allowed home yesterday.

Nine people from Poland were among the injured and five were still in hospital last night.

The coach was run by National Express but operated by Plymouth firm Trathens, who are owned by Scots bus company Park's of Hamilton. The vehicle was only three months old but was not fitted with a black box data recorder.

The law says coach operators must provide seatbelts but it is up to passengers to choose whether to use them.

National Express said the driver did warn passengers to belt up before leaving Heathrow.

The company's chief executive, Paul Bunting, said: "Our thoughts and condolences go out to the families and loved-ones of those involved in last night's accident.

Driver Philip Rooney was described as an experienced contractor.

A spokesman for National Express said he worked for Park's of Hamilton.

National Express strategic planning director Ian McInnes said: "Some drivers are contractors but they all receive full training.

"We have a good working relationship with those companies.

McInnes added: "We don't know how fast the bus was going.

"We will have this information as soon as we have a look at the bus's tachograph."

The coach was taken to a garage in Oxfordshire yesterday, where it will be examined by crash investigators.

CAPTION(S):

TOW: The coach is covered by a tarpaulin as it is taken away' MANGLED: The blood-soaked crash scene, with the National Express coach lying on its side LONDON FIRE BRIGADE/PA
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 5, 2007
Words:1060
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