26 Polish pilgrims killed

At least 26 Polish pilgrims visiting a Marian shrine in France were killed over the weekend when their bus skidded and fell down a ravine.

Perth Now reports that twenty-four people were also injured, 14 of them seriously, emergency workers said.

The coach, with 49 passengers and two drivers on board, was going down a steep and winding road between Gap and Grenoble in eastern France when it had problems with its brakes at around 9.30am (5.30pm AEST) near the town of Vizille.

The coach tour was returning from the Roman Catholic shrine of Notre Dame de la Salette, where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to two children in 1846.

The coach from Poland smashed through the safety barrier on the side of the road and hurtled 40 metres onto the banks of the river Romanche below.

It burst into flames as it came to rest beside the river and was gutted by fire. Local people rushed to the scene and tried to put out the blaze with buckets of water.

A large number of rescue workers went to the scene after the local governor's office activated an emergency plan. The injured were shuttled to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter.

Divers were called to the scene to search for victims who may have been thrown into the river.

Most of those on board the bus were elderly and came from the Szczecin region of northeast Poland, officials said in Warsaw.

They were on a tour of European Roman Catholic shrines and had spent the night at Notre Dame de la Salette.

"They left Poland on 10 July and were on their way back," said foreign ministry spokesman Robert Szaniawski.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon was due to visit the scene during the day, his office said. He was to fly from Paris at midday after attending a ceremony in memory of Jewish deportees in World War II.

The tortuous RN85 road from Gap to Grenoble has been the scene of many accidents over the years. Three coach crashes at exactly the same spot in the 1970s caused 77 deaths.

Investigators were likely to concentrate on the condition of the Polish coach. The descent is authorised for use by buses only if they are equipped with electronic braking.

26 killed in French coach crash (Perth Now, 22/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Our Lady of La Salette website
Our Lady of La Salette
La Salette, France

23 Jul 2007