I have in my drafts a blog post I was going to publish about now, loosely based on our New Year skiing holiday in La Rosiere, and detailing my best tips for a family ski holiday. I may still publish that post, but it won't be today.
In a case of best laid plans, I've had to hastily throw that post out of the virtual window and instead post this one, the various potential titles of which might also be;
"The one in which I cheat death on a French motorway"
"What do the Tins have in common with the Windsors?"
"Always wear a fucking seatbelt"
We had a wonderful week's skiing, sunshine, good food, good wine and fabulous company. We were sad to be going home.We got on the coach in La Rosiere just before 7a.m. last Sunday morning, with the kids excited that it was a double-decker coach, and installed ourselves across the four very front seats on the top deck, and headed off on our way down the winding mountain roads in the dark. I dozed fitfully, always conscious of the precarious nature of our travel, and breathed a small sigh of relief when we reached the bottom and our journey would hopefully be more straightforward, and I did eventually drop off to sleep. I woke up again around 8.30 when we stopped at a rest-stop and various people got off to go to the toilet.
We continued on our way, and I remember marvelling at the fact that there was no traffic whatsoever to be seen on the straight two-lane motorway. When we therefore slowly but surely started moving from the outside lane towards the middle around 10 minutes later, things immediately seemed odd.The coach struck the central reservation and then, just as slowly and surely headed back to the outside of the motorway. Alarm bells immediately started ringing, and I remember someone shouting "hold tight" when, sure enough, we hit the barrier on the outside of the motorway. After scraping along it for a couple of seconds, it obviously broke, and the coach started ploughing down the gentle muddly slope next to the carriageway. Almost in slow motion, the vehicle leaned towards the right and fell onto its side, accompanied by the sound of glass shattering and people screaming..
Sitting on the far left, I was now being held sideways by my seat-belt, desperately holding onto my youngest daughter who was sat next to me.My husband and elder daughter, who had been sat on the right of the coach and were now therefore on the "bottom", undid their seat-belts and helped us do the same so that we could climb down. Having reassured ourselves that the friends we had been travelling with were ok, we proceeded to try and find a way out. Smashing the window closest to us with the emergency hammer didn't have much effect, but a shout from the back indicated that the rear window was passable. We therefore gingerly made our way down the coach, trying to avoid stepping on panes of glass as we went.
Outside, the scene was chaotic, with adults and children crying and bleeding. In a stroke of luck, a private ambulance had been passing and stopped to administer first aid to those that seemed most seriously injured.It appeared, however, that everyone had managed to walk out of the coach - surely helped by two factors, the speed and location of the accident, and the fact we had all been wearing seat-belts (an opinion reinforced later to me by several staff in the hospital who kept telling us "thank God you weren't French - they wouldn't have been strapped in!").
How long it took for the fire brigade and ambulances to arrive is a bit of a blur, and at first their approach seemed a little disorganised, with several people asking the same questions. Eventually a bit of a system became obvious, with injuries being classified in a traffic light system of green - not injured yellow - minor injuries, red - serious injuries. The only visible injury to my family was a large bump on my eldest daughter's face, however, she looked very pale and her legs suddenly buckled under her, slumping into the arms of the nearest fireman. She was promptly laid out on the floor on a makeshift stretcher with her legs in the air, and covered with blankets, before being carried very gingerly back up to the slope into a waiting ambulance.
It was whilst trying to follow her up the slope that I realised that trying to bend my left leg had suddenly become extremely painful, causing me to be reclassified from a "green" to a "yellow". Whilst we were therefore transported to the local hospital, my husband and youngest daughter (both being "greens") were taken to a local community centre where they were looked after by the local community.
Once at the hospital, it became apparent that I was the only injured person on the coach who could speak passable French. Whilst my daughter was therefore taken away to be x-rayed (and fed!), I was called in to "help the police with their inquiries", giving both my own statement, and helping with the translation of one or two others, before being x-rayed myself.
Having both been given the all-clear and pain relief, we were taken to a small room with other "survivors", where food and drink and children's games had been laid on. Also there was a representative from the tour operator, who was in contact with the group in the community centre. Having missed our flight back to the UK (Southampton), it seemed that there was a very small chance that we might be able to catch the last flight out - to Stansted.
In very dramatic fashion therefore, several families were reunited - a police escort accompanying the coach from the community centre first to the hospital, where we got on, then on to the airport. This involved one police car in front of the coach stopping all traffic with "blues and twos" as we passed, with two police cars bringing up the rear. "This is just like when the Queen goes anywhere!", as no1 daughter remarked.
The rest of the journey was stressful, if actually unremarkable, and we eventually got home around midnight, only around eight hours later than planned.We all took Monday off to recover, but by Tuesday the kids were back at school, and I went in on Wednesday. The muscles I pulled in my waist and neck have been gradually getting better every day, and all bruising has faded from angry purple through moss green to putrid yellow.Whether the mind will bear any lasting effects remains to be seen - needless to say, the thought of going on a coach any time soon isn't one I would cherish, and I'm still struggling a little with trying NOT to think of what could have been.
Needless to say we are all very, very, very lucky and very thankful we just walked away. In fact, so undramatic were the injuries overall that the accident barely made the British press, bar a short mention on the Guardian website, followed by a slightly longer piece on the Daily Mail (sorry!) website. French local TV did of course do a couple of pieces, which are online here and here (both containing a starring role for the back of youngest daughter's head in the arms of a French fireman).
A thousand thanks to the folk at Esprit Ski for the VIP treatment (yes, despite everything, we're thinking of booking again for next year), and all the unnamed French firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses and gendarmes - who were all singularly brilliant.
Most of all, however, thanks goes to whoever it was that decided that Sunday 4th January wasn't going to be the day that our time was up.