Beaune accident: 40 years ago, the deadliest road tragedy in our history

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Forty years later, the scars are still vivid. In Beaune, no one has forgotten the tragedy of July 31, 1982, which claimed the lives of 53 people, including 46 children.

In Crépy-le-Valois, in the Oise, either.

It is from this village that, that evening, two buses, filled with children and teenagers, leave for Savoy, for a camp organized by the social assistance of the local family allowance fund.

In the coaches, the atmosphere is festive as the two vehicles descend the Autoroute du Soleil, in the middle of the crossroads of summer. But everything will change in a fraction of a second.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m., the buses reach, at kilometer 313 of the A6, the “funnel” of Beaune, where traffic narrows from three lanes to two.

The driver of the first bus is tired: he also drove the day before, and only slept a few hours. When a bus brakes suddenly in front of him, he is slow to react. The two heavyweights collide at 16 km / h. Except that at the same time, two cars are inserted at full speed behind the bus. A 2CV hits the first bus, and is soon in turn hit head-on by the second bus, which follows. A fourth vehicle fails to brake in time and crashes into the bus. The pileup is daunting.

Tanks burst open, explode, vehicles catch fire. 6, in total, ignite. It’s panic: in the first bus, we manage to evacuate all the children. But in the second, it is already too late. “They were piled up at the back of the bus, because it was the only possible exit. With the shock, the front door had been blocked”, tells the Telegram Philippe Rouillard, one of the first firefighters who arrived on the spot. Today, the firefighter remains deeply scarred by what he saw that night. “When we arrive, it’s completely ablaze. We know that no one will come out alive. It’s too late,” he told AFP.

In total, of the 107 children on the buses, 46 will perish. The youngest was 5 years old. 7 adults are also killed in the tragic accident, in the middle of the highway.

“I had nightmares of it for years, confided to France 3 the AFP photographer dispatched to the site at the time, Eric Feferberg. The firefighters were taking out the remains which no longer had anything human”.

For parents, warned at dawn, the drama is unimaginable.

“We will never mourn,” says Marie-Andrée Martin, also to France 3. That day, these 4 children were part of the trip. Three of them perished.

It is the mayor of Crépy-en-Valois, Michel Dupuy, who will communicate the names of the deceased children the next morning, in alphabetical order.

The drama made the front page of the newspapers, and upset the whole of France. On August 3, the funeral of the little victims takes place in the town of Oise, in the presence of the President of the Republic, François Mitterrand, and his Prime Minister, Pierre Mauroy.

In 1985, a memorial was erected at the Curney rest area, not far from the accident site.

The tragedy also raised awareness, and the Minister of Transport at the time, Charles Fiterman, decided to take a series of measures that still shape road safety in France today. As such, the maximum speed of coaches is reduced on the motorway, and collective transport of minors is prohibited during periods of crossover.

This weekend, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the accident, several celebrations have been organized, in Merceuil, the adjacent town, but also in Crépy-en-Valois, so that no one forgets the victims of the worst road tragedy that France has ever known.

40 years later, discover in images in our slideshow the emotion and pain of the worst road drama in our history.