NEARLY 30 schoolchildren had to be rescued by 999 crews after a schoolbus became stuck in floodwater.
The bus was travelling between Newton-on-Ouse and Tollerton, outside York, on Tuesday morning when it became stuck due to the flooded New Parks Beck.
North Yorkshire County Council has confirmed the driver drove into a road that had been closed due to flooding since December 26.
Stephensons of Easingwold, which owns the bus, has apologised to the children and their families.
Karen Smith's 15-year-old daughter Grace Abbott was one of the pupils on the bus when it entered flood water and became stuck, and said it was "really scary, a horrible way to start the day".
Grace, pictured above with Karen, said: "We felt the bus tilt and that's when water started gushing through the bus. Everyone ran across to the other side of the bus to stop us capsizing and tipping over. He was shouting down the phone to the bus company so I thought we had to phone the fire brigade because there was no way we were getting out of there on our own."
Grace said the majority of the 30 children on board the bus were younger than her, with ages of students at the school ranging from 10 to 18, and "a lot of the younger children were crying".
She and a friend tried to smash the glass on the emergency, which resulted in cuts to her hand.
She said: "We knew we were waiting for 15 minutes and something bad could happen, or someone could have a panic attack, so we started to smash the emergency window.
"A lot of the younger children were heavily breathing, panicking and crying. The fire brigade came and waded through and opened the emergency door. Because the bus had tilted enough, they could open it. They got the youngest ones off first."
Pam Fowler's 15-year-old daughter Emilia was on board the bus when it hit the floodwater, and said her hands were shaking through panic during the incident.
Emilia said: "Some water came through the door at first and we thought that would be it, but suddenly water started gushing in in just a couple of seconds and that's when people started panicking.
"People were crying and shouting. We all sort of automatically ran to the other side of the bus. The water was around my ankles going through the aisle, I think people at the front got quite wet because it was a lot higher at the front."
Pam Fowler said: "There's a sign that says 'road closed', and I was quite shocked someone would try to go through it. It's been quite bad for a few weeks.
"I know it's the first day back to school and he's maybe not aware of what the flood situation is like around here, but it did say 'road closed', and I would have thought he'd think better than risking it and gone around the other way, but obviously not. I'm really quite shocked, he's got responsibility for the lives of 26 children."
North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service crews were sent to the scene, and assisted the children from the vehicle.
North Yorkshire County Council said the bus driver had driven the bus through a road closure sign as the route taken by the bus, between Tollerton and Newton on Ouse, has been closed by the highways authority since the heavy rains and flooding after Christmas.
Fire crews moved the schoolchildren from the stricken vehicle out of the flood water and onto another bus.
One Press reader sent in this picture through our website:
Another reader sent this from the scene:
One reader contacted The Press and said the bus was travelling from Newton-on-Ouse to Easingwold School, and had more than 30 children on board.
A parent of one of the children, who asked not to be named, said: "The bus slid off the road into the ditch, while filling up with water. At this point one of the kids called the emergency services, while the driver called the bus depot.
"One of the kids broke the back window with her hand and cut it badly, the driver shouted at them not to get out as the would 'drown', they sat on the bus for 15 minutes, it was the fire services that carried the kids off the bus, onto another bus."
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, the executive member for highways, said: "We put road closure signs out during flooding for a very good reason – to keep people safe.
"Roads all over the county have been affected by flood waters and some remain so. We would urge drivers to comply for the sake of their own safety and not drive through closure signs when there is flooding.
"It is not possible to tell how deep the water is on flooded roads and drivers can quickly find themselves in trouble – along with their passengers. We will be working with the management staff at Stephenson’s to ensure that the incident is fully investigated and appropriate action is taken."
David Stephenson, of Stephensons Coach Hire, said the driver was not a new employee, and had "travelled the normal route" for the journey to the school.
He said: "We're in the process of investigating the incident and working closely with the relevant authorities and will interview the driver as soon as possible, as he's quite shaken up by the situation. The important thing is no-one was seriously hurt.
"I've never known anything like this with the company. It's a very unfortunate situation but we will know more once the investigation is complete. We are very grateful no-one has been injured as a result of it."
Mr Stephenson said a message would be issued to families, parents and schoolchildren as soon as possible, and he hoped more information would be available within the next 24 hours.
In a written statement, the company added: "We express our sincere apologies to the children who were on the service this morning as well as to their families for this unfortunate incident.
"We are very pleased to report that there were no serious injuries as a result of this incident and everyone was successfully rescued from the bus unharmed. We are extremely grateful to the fire brigade and the other emergency services for ensuring that this was the case."
Phil Benaiges, headteacher of Easingwold School, said students had been collected by parents from the scene or from the school, and taken home after being given hot drinks and food.
He said: "Both emergency services and the School were alerted about the incident by a student. I understand that students were very supportive of each other, despite the difficult circumstances. We worked very hard to keep the relevant parents informed, of both the initial incident and when students were safe and sound.
"I would like to thank the prompt and professional approach of the emergency services, the staff involved in school and particular thanks and best wishes go to our students who dealt so well with a potentially serious situation. I am very proud of their responsible and calm behaviour in the circumstances."
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