SECONDARY school students on board a bus which lost two of its wheels near Ballinagar have spoken about the fear they experienced as it ground to a halt.
The schoolbus was on its way to Tullamore on Friday morning, October 25 when a rear twin-wheel on the left-hand side of the vehicle came off.
One 14-year-old said he heard a “really bad noise”, like a “rattling noise” from the bus.
“One of the lads joked ‘Lads, sounds like this bus is going to go’ and then there was this massive bang and a scraping noise for a good while until the bus stopped,” he said.
“We were all looking at each other and didn’t know what to do. People started joking and shouting and everyone had phones out, but then I got a bit nervous about what had happened.”
A girl on the bus, aged 13, detailed what she saw happening when the bus stopped and an attempt was made to open a door near the back of the vehicle.
“I wasn’t too bad afterwards, but then the door wouldn’t open and I started to get worried,” she said.
“Two of the older lads on the bus had to help the driver push open the door but I was getting nervous because there was a smell of burning in the bus.
“I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was from the scraping, or the wheels, but it was very strong and I was getting afraid the bus could go on fire and just wanted to get out of there.”
Some passengers telephoned their parents to tell them what happened and one mother said two of her children were “in shock”.
The woman described what her daughter told her when the bus stopped near a house on the roadside.
“She was sitting in the window seat on the side that was leaning toward the house and she kept thinking what would have happened if the bus toppled over. She said it was very hard to even get off the bus because it was at an angle and the steps down off the bus reached the ground.”
A father of another student said he was told the bus came to a “shuddering halt” which caused “great panic and trauma”.
“This was not helped by the smell of burning rubber in the bus which all students encountered,” he said.
A parent also said that because the bus stopped between two pick-up points, some of the students rang ahead to the next stop to tell other schoolchildren what had happened.
The bus operator, Buggy Coaches, organised another bus to come along and bring the passengers to school but some parents had already gone to the scene and collected their children.
A number of students at one of the schools affected were scheduled to catch another bus to an event in Athlone the same morning.
Parents said their children told them they were fearful about getting on a bus again but there was also praise for how the driver had handled the situation.
When the Tribune contacted Tullamore gardai on the day of the incident, they said they had received no report about it.
A mark was left on the road where it scraped along the surface before it stopped. Images recorded at the scene on the morning also showed that the bus had stopped just beyond the brow of a hill at a continuous white line at the beginning of a hard shoulder. The vehicle took up the entire width of its own carriageway.
On a video recording made inside the bus one student can be heard laughing and saying “What did I tell you?” and another says “The wheel came off”.
A recording made outside the bus captured a voice saying, “You can’t ‘bate’ the smell of fresh burnt rubber in the morning”.
At least one parent went onto the road to help manage the traffic as the students were disembarking and some of the schoolchildren themselves assisted, even rolling the tyres along towards the bus.
Parents said they were relieved that nobody was injured with one remarking that it was a very narrow escape for everyone.
Parents also praised Colaiste Choilm for how students on its school roll were treated when they arrived late, were given tea and had the option of going home for the day. A follow-up phone call was made later on Friday to parents.
Buggy Coaches said they did not wish to comment on the matter this week.
Queries made to the regional Bus Eireann School Transport Office in Athlone were unanswered at time of writing.
It costs between €350 and €650 for a family to have their children included in the post primary school transport scheme for one school year.