‘There was a big shudder... we saw fire and flames’

Harry Rutledge, 21, from Southsea, was involved in a coach crash in the French Alps on Tuesday. He was one of 50 passengers that survived. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131075-817)
Harry Rutledge, 21, from Southsea, was involved in a coach crash in the French Alps on Tuesday. He was one of 50 passengers that survived. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131075-817)
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A MAN who survived a horrific coach crash in the French Alps says he’s lucky to be alive.

Harry Rutledge, of Crofton Road, Milton, Portsmouth, was a passenger on a coach which careered into a cliff face before catching fire.

The driver – who has been hailed a hero for steering the vehicle into rocks to avoid falling over a precipice – was killed in the accident.

Harry, 21, who returned to Portsmouth yesterday morning, said: ‘It was really sudden.

‘No one saw it coming, we looked up and we could see the rock wall coming towards us.

‘Then it just a few moments there was a big shudder and everything crashed.

‘Everyone put their heads on the seat in front of them, and when we looked up, we saw a big fire and flames – it was really scary.

‘People started smashing windows so they could escape.’

Harry had been working as a general assistant at the Valle Blanche Hotel in the Alps over the skiing season and the coach was taking staff on the journey to Britain.

He was sitting near the fire exit on the bus when the crash happened.

He said: ‘I went down the stairs, but the emergency door was wedged against some rocks, and there was only a small space to get out.

‘Luckily my manager was on the other side, and helped pull me out.

‘We all moved up the road, away from the coach and turned around to see the fire was raging.

‘I was in disbelief – it’s something you see on the television or film, and not something you’re involved in.

‘I feel lucky to be alive.’

It is thought the brakes on the coach had failed.

Harry was full of gratitude for the actions of the driver, Maurice Wrightson: ‘I didn’t know the driver, but he was a hero. There’s no doubt about that.

‘We’re lucky he did what he did, if he didn’t we all would’ve died.

‘We all would’ve ended up in the ravine.’

After the incident, French police and fire services took survivors to the city Grenoble, where they gave interviews, before being flown back to the UK.

Harry’s mother Karen Lax, 48, a mental health worker, said: ‘When I saw the pictures it was just horrific.

‘The 24 hours after the crash were pretty emotional, as we tried to get him home.’

French authorities are investigating the crash.