KIDS? FOOTY TEAM IN HORROR SMASH
By ZOE SATHERLEY
FOUR people were killed and 21 Ballina High School students were taken to hospital after a horror crash on the Pacific Highway south of Coffs Harbour yesterday.
The students, all boys, were the school's AFL under 15s football team and were returning from a regional match against Bellingen High School.
Their bus with 25 on board, including two teachers, a student teacher and the bus driver, collided head-on with a Toyota Tarago carrying five people.
The sole survivor from the van is a 15year-old girl with severe head injuries.
She is fighting for her life and is in a critical condition.
The accident happened on a notorious stretch of road.
The crash happened on an accident-prone single lane stretch of highway at Bonville, in the wet, at 1.50pm.
The highway was closed in both directions for several hours with traffic backed up for seven kilometres.
Front seat bus passenger David Esler, 14, of Wardell, said the group had just settled into watching a film when the bus driver yelled out "Holy s?-! He's coming straight for us! I think we're gone!"
David said the bus driver swerved to the side of the road to try and avoid the collision.
"I just shut my eyes and hung on to the front rail as hard as I could. There wasn't time to do anything else.
"I know I should have had my seat belt on, but like a lot of the other kids, I didn't.
"The next thing I remember is being hurled against the windscreen which shattered from the impact and then landing at the top of the stairs.
"There were kids strewn all over the bus. We were all in shock."
David said the worst injured was Daniel White, a Year 12 student who had gone on the excursion to help with the umpiring. He received severe cuts and several of his teeth were smashed.
Most of the students received minor injuries including cuts, abrasions and bruising.
All were taken to the Coffs Harbour Health Campus by ambulance where they were assessed and either treated or given counselling.
A spokesman for the North Coast Area Health Service said the victims were treated compassionately, with a multi-disciplinary team springing into immediate action.
Both the Health Department and the Department of Education and Training provided counselling sup- port for those traumatised by the incident.
All of the students, teachers, and the bus driver had been released from the hospital by late last night.
They returned to Ballina on a bus chartered by the school.
Police were late yesterday unable to confirm the ages or sexes of those who died.
The bus driver, from Lismore, told reporters at the scene he saw the Tara- go "come out of nowhere".