Gap-year tragedy as five die in bus crash

LESS than a month ago, Indira Swann, 18, waved goodbye to her boyfriend, Harry Felton, as he set off on his gap year to Thailand. There were hugs and tears – but not too many, as Indira was eagerly counting down the next seven days when she would leave home for her own gap year, working in Ecuador.

But yesterday every parent's nightmare came to pass: Ms Swann was named as one of the five British women killed in Ecuador when a lorry carrying sand careered into the tour bus in which they were travelling.

Rebecca Logie, 19, of Lancashire, a student at the University of Manchester, Sarah Howard, 26, from Cheshire, the travel company's tour leader, Elizabeth Pincock, 19, of Somerset and Emily Sadler, 19, from Hertfordshire, were also killed.

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Photographs of the crash show the side of the bus of the local travel company Reina del Camino completely torn off. The victims were trapped in the wreck before being taken to hospital, where they were pronounced dead, said reports.

The lorry's driver is believed to have fled the scene and Ecuadorian authorities have appointed a prosecutor to investigate. Last night it was reported the bus driver also left the crash site.

The tragedy took place at about 6pm on Saturday, on a stretch of road near the town of Jipijapa between the capital, Quito, and the coastal town of Puerto Lopez as the students, who were on a trip organised by Warwick-based gap-year specialist VentureCo, headed south to start building sanitation facilities for a village crche. They had just completed a two-week course in Spanish in Quito.

Twelve Britons, a French national and two Ecuadorians, a driver and a tour guide, were injured in the crash. The injured have suffered whiplash, minor facial and leg injuries.

Last night, Mr Felton was unaware that his girlfriend, known as "Indie", was dead. His parents, Richard and Chris, were frantically leaving messages for him on social networking websites asking him to urgently call home.

Mr and Mrs Felton described Ms Swann, who was due to start a degree course at King's College, London, in the autumn, as "a joy to be with" and "always vivacious, witty and stylish".

"She was intelligent, academically gifted and hard-working. She enjoyed life and had worked hard to save money for her gap-year trip," they said.

Her devastated parents, Greg and Louise, of Maidenhead, Berkshire, were travelling home from Italy where they had been on holiday.

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The family of Emily Sadler also paid tribute to their "fun-loving and popular" daughter. Miss Sadler's family said she loved to travel, and had previously visited South Africa on a trip through her former school, North London Collegiate.

She last spoke to her family on Wednesday when she rang to tell them about her latest adventure.

Her family said: "She was a beautiful bubbly girl with her whole life ahead of her. Her loss is indescribable."

Miss Sadler lived in Northwood, Hertfordshire, with her parents, Graham and Kay, her two sisters Annelisa and Libby and her two brothers George and William.

She was on a gap year before going to Manchester University to study history, and had worked as a swimming teacher for a local gym and a teaching assistant in a school to save for the trip.

Miss Logie's parents, Robin and Jane, who live in Chorley, Lancashire, said they hoped their daughter's tragic death would not discourage other young people from following their dreams. Mr Logie said: "She loved life. Everybody liked her and she was very popular. She lived life to the full.

"It was a four-month trip and she'd been gone for three weeks.

"I don't want anybody to be put off by what happened to our daughter – it was an accident."

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Miss Pincock was head of Weirhead house in the class of 2007 at Taunton School, an independent school in Somerset. The teenager played hockey for the school's first team.

Mark Davison, co-founder and director of VentureCo, expressed his sympathy to the families of those killed. "One thing that should never have to happen is that a parent should have to go through this. My heart absolutely goes out to them," he said.

Mr Davison said the crash happened within 30 minutes of the group's destination on a stretch of road regarded as the "safer part" of the eight-hour journey. He said the risk assessment for the trip had identified the high Andes as the most dangerous areas for road travel, and an accident in the coastal area was unusual. However, travel advice on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's website warns Ecuador's roads can be hazardous.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said he was "deeply saddened" by the deaths.

Miss Swann, who had completed her studies at Henley College, Oxfordshire, set out for her trip on 27 March, and had written in an online blog of her excitement at spending three months in South America, volunteering, learning Spanish and walking the Inca Trail.

Three days before she died, she wrote: "Hello from ecuador! Just wanted to drop a line let everyone know im great. having an amazing time, learning spanish, aquiring ethnic clothing, climbling volcanos (to 5,300 metres!) and salsa dancing very badly, along with great friends and a fair amount of very cheap tequila. i forgot the email addys i took for people so if you could just pass that on would be great! love to all. Hope everythings ok at the bell, see you guys very soon im sure (its going very very fast!)"

A week ago, on 6 April, she had complained about a rough bus journey she endured on a trip to the Cotopaxi volcano: "I was sick on the bus – the rocky-est bus I've ever been on, it drove through a river!"

Friends began to post tributes to Miss Swann on the site. Nic Hine wrote: "To have been able to call you my friend for the past 8 years makes me proud Dira. I miss you and I love you. Rest in Peace x x x"

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A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the injuredwill fly home to Britain when their condition allows.

25,000 young people embark on trip of a lifetime every year

EACH year, about 25,000 teenagers from the UK embark on a "gap".

But in some cases, grand plans for a voyage of discovery can be fraught with confusion and danger for those who have rarely spent such a long time away from home.

Last month, Pamela McCarroll, 18, who was working as a science teacher in Guyana, died after falling from a cliff while hiking. The teenager, from Beith, Ayrshire, slipped at a precipice in a south-western Amazon district of the South American country.

In January this year, backpacker Karen Aim was murdered in New Zealand while on a working holiday. Ms Aim, 26, from Orkney,

was killed as she made her way home from a night out in the North Island resort of Taupo.

In March 2005, 20-year-old Tania Scott was killed in a car crash in Brazil along with her 51-year-old journalist father Noll.

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A month earlier, gap-year students Rebecca Owen, of Llanfechain, in Powys, south Wales, and Chloe Elizabeth Taylor, of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, both in their twenties, were killed in a coach crash in Mexico.

In October 2004, two 18-year-old former pupils, from the independent Sevenoaks School in Kent, died within hours of each other on separate gap-year breaks.

Natalie Skilbeck was killed in a car crash on the French island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean while working as a classroom assistant and au pair. Jack Salt died just hours later in a climbing accident in Ecuador, South America, where he too had been working at a local school.

In April 2002, 19-year-old backpacker Caroline Stuttle, from York, was robbed and pushed from a 30ft bridge in Bundaberg, Queensland, by drug addict Ian Previte. She had been travelling in Australia during a gap year with a friend and had been due to start a psychology course at Manchester University.

Stuart Crawford, who gives safety tips and advice to those planning a gap year, said it was impossible to prepare for some incidents.

"This is a terrible tragedy, but there are some things that you can't prepare for. I would, however, be interested to know if any of them were wearing seatbelts," he said.

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