French investigators piece together deadly train-bus crash

Investigators on Friday reconstructed the seconds before a train plowed into a school bus at a level crossing in southern France and killed at least five children, an incident the prime minister described as "horrific."

Officials said a 5th student died Friday, after 4 children were killed in the crash Thursday

Emergency personnel secure a perimeter near the site where a school bus collided with a train near Millas in southern France on Thursday. Officials initially said Friday that two more children had died, but then revised the statement. (Michel Clementz/EPA-EFE)

Investigators on Friday reconstructed the seconds before a train plowed into a school bus at a level crossing in southern France and killed at least five children, an incident the prime minister described as "horrific." 

The collision on Thursday afternoon ripped the bus apart.

Authorities worked into the night to identify the first victims, and the official death toll came after a source close to the 
investigation earlier said six youngsters had lost their lives in the crash that stunned the small community of Millas, near 

Four children aged 12 or 13 died Thursday in the crash at a crossing close to the Spanish border. Another student died Friday. French authorities said all victims had been identified and their families notified.

The bus driver and 18 others were injured. Seven of them remained in critical condition Friday.

Hospitals appealed for blood donations.

The bus was carrying students aged 11 to 15 from the Christian Bourquin school in the village of Millas. The school opened its doors Friday to offer counselling for grieving students and families. 

The school bus was ripped in half as a result of the crash. (Matthieu Ferri/France Bleu/Associated Press)

Investigators were still working to determine the cause of the crash. Vignes said he could not say whether the railway barriers meant to stop vehicles from driving onto the tracks when a train is coming were open or closed. 

"There are contradictory rumours," he said. "We need to be very careful." 

Vignes told reporters overnight that investigators would look into reports that the batteries in the automatic train gate system had been stolen. 

The bus driver, a 49-year-old woman, was described as "lucid" by the manager of the bus company in an interview with BFM TV. The bus was well maintained, he added.

Gaelle Le Fauche, an official from France's national rail authority, SNCF, told The Associated Press the train was carrying 25 people, including passengers and crew, and all were accounted for and being offered counselling. She said the train normally travels at 80 km/h at that location.

With files from The Associated Press