They were on their way to their summer camp, but never reached their destination. 40 years ago, the town of Crépy-en-Valois experienced the greatest tragedy in its history: 44 children and 9 adults died in a bus accident.
It is July 31, 1982. Two buses with more than a hundred children left for a summer camp in Savoie. This is the period of crossover of vacationers. The heavy, but fairly fluid traffic is hampered by heavy rain. The road is slippery and it is dark.
Suddenly, the queue of cars in front of them slows down. The first bus, French, fails to brake and hits a German bus. The second French bus collided with the first. At this level of the A6 motorway, near Beaune, in the Côte d’Or, and in the direction of Lyon, the road changes from three to two lanes. Two private cars are caught in the vise. The tank of one of them was torn open by the impact, the gasoline spilled out, ignited and the fire spread.
In the first bus, everyone is miraculously evacuated in time. The consequences for the residents of the second are fatal: only 14 children and one accompanying person manage to escape. The other 53 passengers, 44 children and 9 adults, remained trapped and were charred by the flames. Among them, 11 come from the same family. These victims include two monitors, two drivers and five passengers in one of the stuck cars.
The accident causes a national shock wave. François Mitterrand, then president, attends the funeral. The 44 deceased children are buried in the Crépy-en-Valois cemetery.
The investigation shows that one of the cars had a seriously defective brake system. The carrier was fined €25,000 and given 18 months’ probation for employing an occasional driver that day. One of the drivers was fined 2,300 francs (350 euros), disqualified from driving for a year and given a six-month suspended sentence. The insurance company is forced to pay 12 million francs (1,829,388 euros) to the families of the victims.
They believe that the sanctions are far too light in relation to the extent of the tragedy. In 2017, Marie-Andrée Martin, whose 11 children perished that night, told the microphone of France 3 Picardie: “we don’t live by it, we survive, we try to live on, but live totally, we can’t“.
Faced with the horror of the situation, the public authorities decided to tighten the transport regulations in France. Barely a month after the tragedy, Charles Fiterman, then Minister of Transport, presented a series of measures to prevent such an accident from happening again. Among them, “drivers’ driving time is reduced” and “the maximum permitted speed for buses is lowered“. Velocity”in rain for all vehicles is reduced to 110 km/h on the motorway and 80 km/h on the road“. Another important measure: public transport of children is prohibited during the transition periods at the end of July and the beginning of August.
Faced with serious faults in the braking system of one of the buses, the government imposes “all heavy vehicles (trucks, buses, etc.)“to be now”equipped with a mechanical speed-limiting device, where any modification by the user is strictly prohibited“. And that’s not all: “manufacturers of vehicles intended for public transport must use non-flammable and non-toxic materials and install laminated glass windshields.”.
This tragedy has left indelible traces in the law, but also (and above all) in the minds of Crépynois and the French. Forty years later, the inhabitants of the abandoned city and the elected representatives of the region continue to honor the memory of the 53 victims. Every July 31 of the year they meet for a memorial ceremony at Hazemont Cemetery.