forty years later, the still sharp wounds of the Beaune tragedy – Liberation

On the night between July 31 and August 1, 1982, 53 people, including 46 children, died in this traffic accident, the deadliest in French history.

On August 1, 1982, France discovered images of horror on the 10 a.m. news. 20 on Antenne 2. Charred buses and cars, “pile of charred sheet metal”, then, in another step, the screams of families hearing of their children’s deaths. During the night, a pileup on the A6, near Beaune (Côte d’Or), killed 53 people, including 46 children.

Forty years later, this accident, experienced as a national tragedy, remains the deadliest in France. Ceremonies will be held on Saturday 30 July and Sunday 31 July to commemorate the victims in Merceuil, on the tragedy, where a memorial plaque shows the names and ages of the 53 dead, then in Crépy-en-Valois (Oise), d where the majority of the victims came from.

A “fundamental moment” for road safety

The drama takes place in the middle of the night, on the Highway of the Sun, in the middle of a summer crossover. Two buses leaving Crépy-en-Valois carry 107 children. The department’s social assistance takes these underprivileged children to a colony in Savoy. For many, this is the first holiday of their life. In the buses, there are all siblings. It is raining on the highway, the road is slippery and the traffic is heavy. Around 01:40 they reach the “funnel” of kilometer point 313: From three lanes we go to two. The driver of the first bus is tired. The previous night he had traveled over 700 kilometers and slept only three or four hours in between. When a German bus brakes in front of him, he reacts belatedly. It’s collision. “It is very difficult to assess the speed of the two cars that caught fire due to the discs [de contrôle] got destroyed”said a lieutenant colonel of the gendarmerie who was among the first to arrive on the scene.

But what could have been just a story about wrinkled sheets turns into a drama. Because a 2CV crashes into the French bus and gets crushed by the other bus with the rest of the kids. Then another car hits it all. Tanks explode, gasoline ignites. The first bus can be evacuated. The other’s front door is blocked, some children manage to get out through the back door, but the vast majority die, suffocate or are burned. Only fourteen children and a monitor from the other coach are saved.

The crash is “a fundamental moment” safety on French roads, explains Christophe Ramond, director of studies and research at the Road Prevention Association. Road transport of children on the days of major departures is subsequently prohibited. Speed ​​limiters are installed on trucks and buses. The driving time for drivers has been reduced (maximum nine hours per day with a break in the middle), the maximum speed for buses has been reduced (100 km/h on the motorway). And for other vehicles, the speed was limited to 110 km/h in rain on the highway and 80 km/h on the road. From now on, technical inspection of coaches is also mandatory every six months.

“I had a black hole”

The crash tests held in 1985 and 1986 actually showed that the bus in which the children burned had faulty brakes. In June 1985, the Dijon Criminal Court sentenced the owner of the transport company to a one-year suspended prison sentence and the driver of the first bus to a six-month suspended prison sentence. The driver of the other bus died. On March 7, 1986, the Court of Appeal in Dijon confirmed this judgment. In its cruelty, this drama “saved lives”, says Marie-Andrée Martin, mother of three children who died in the disaster and president of an association of victims.

On Sunday morning, Marie-Andrée Martin goes to the town hall in Crépy-en-Valois. She just heard about one on the radio “serious accident”. Good news falls: Sylvie, his eldest by 15 years, is a survivor. “So I thought my other three children were too.” But Bruno, Frédéric and Florence did not survive. They were 12, 11 and 9 years old. “I had a black hole. I was in denial. At that time there was no psychological cell. It was very complicated,” she confesses. Seven children from the same family died that night and 17 who lived in the same building in Crépy-en-Valois.

Philippe Rouillard, 24 years old at the time, was one of the first firefighters to intervene on the scene. At France Bleu, he testifies to the feelings that still hold him forty years later: “We couldn’t do anything for these children, it was already too late. We don’t blame ourselves, but we live with it. At that time, there was no psychological support, no support for people who experienced this tragedy. We stood alone with all this.”

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