UPDATE: Whiteways bus blaze children to be offered ‘psychological support’

The wrecked coach being taken away following a fire inside the engine.
The wrecked coach being taken away following a fire inside the engine.

CHILDREN caught up in this morning’s dramatic coach fire at Whiteway Lodge, near Arundel, will be offered psychological counselling, their head teacher has said today (Friday, January 25).

Around 60 year-five children, teachers staff and a number of parents from the Storrington First School were on the double-decker when the blaze ignited, at around 8.40am, this morning, in London Road.

The flames are believed to have erupted from the engine compartment of the bus.

All the passengers left the coach and were taken to another nearby bus for transport back to the school. The children taken to hospital were suffering from minor smoke inhalations.

Storrington’s head teacher, Garry Smart confirmed that the three children taken to hospital have since been released.

“The school activated its emergency plan very quickly,” Mr Smart said.

“That meant that he chair of governors was on site at the school. We began contacting parents about the situation.

“In conjunction with the local authority, we will be offering psychological support for the children, if they want it, when they return next week.”

Blaze drama

Adrian Goff, chef at Whiteways Lodge, was one of the first to help evacuate the passengers – who were on their way to the Beaulieu Motor Museum, in Hampshire.

The 23-year-old from Chichester said: “It was like a scene from a movie.

“There was thick black smoke coming from the back of the coach which was travelling down from Berry Hill.

“Flames started bellowing out of it a couple of minutes later.

“All the children looked very scared and some were hysterical but the teachers did a great job calming them down.”

He added: “I think it was very lucky no one was seriously injured.”

London Road was closed for around two hours as emergency services tackled the blaze on the bus, owned by Heritage Coaches.

The evacuees were given free mugs of hot chocolate by Whiteways staff while they waited to be transported back to school.

Sergeant Alan Spicer of Sussex Police’s roads policing unit – based less than a mile away in Arundel – said: “I would like to praise the teachers and children from Storrington First School for the way they conducted themselves during this incident.

“They remained calm throughout and the children listened to the direction of the teachers, who did a fantastic job.”

Electrical fault blamed

Transport company Heritage has launched an investigation into the fire.

Chris Martin, group transport manager for Heritage, said: “Initial reports indicate today’s fire was caused by an electrical fault.

“We will be conducting a full and thorough investigation in to the cause of today’s incident.

“All of our double-deck coaches are fitted with fire suppression equipment which is designed to either suppress a fire or reduce the effect which increases the time available to evacuate our passengers in a safe manor.”

He added: “We sincerely apologise to our passengers and their families that have been affected by the problem that they experienced this morning.”