Three people returning from a music festival died in a coach crash after a tyre that was nearly 20 years old blew out, forcing the vehicle to leave a dual carriageway and crash into a tree, an inquest heard today.
The driver Colin Daulby battled to control the 52-seat coach as it headed north on the A3 in Surrey from the Bestival music festival on the Isle of Wight and the blow-out on the front nearside tyre occurred, making the coach veer to the left, mount the embankment, crash through a fence and into the tree.
Mr Daulby, 63, from Warrington, died in the crash along with Kerry Ogden, 23, of Maghull, Liverpool, and another passenger, musician Michael Molloy, 18, from Woolton, Liverpool.
The coach was operated by Merseypride Travel and heading back to Merseyside just before midnight on September 10 last year.
The vehicle was full of friends who had left Merseyside on September 5 to go south for the festival and each paid £56 to hire the coach but bought their own tickets.
Those inside talked of waking up and seeing the tree looming before them as the coach went up the embankment in the moments before the crash, then scrambling out while smelling fuel. Many suffered serious injuries in addition to the three who died from multiple injuries, the inquest in Woking, Surrey was told.
Tyre expert David Price said several of the six tyres on the coach were old with one dating back to 2001 and the spare was 14 years old.
But Mr Price explained that the tyre that burst was 19 and half years old because it has a dot code giving the age and was "abnormally old" and that caused the accident as it finally failed. "It is known that tyres deterioriate significantly with age," he said.
He explained that the tyre had been delaminating, or falling apart internally, for months but this would not have been noticeable to the eye. He said that it was only half worn so had either been a spare or in storage for many years.
"This is one of the oldest tyres I have encountered failing," he said.
He said that recommendations from manufacturers that apply only to cars say tyres should not be fitted if they are six years old and replaced if they are 10 years old.
He said that this was not a legal requirement and it did not apply to coaches or lorries, which he said was "frustrating".
"I cannot see any scientific reason why they (the recommendations) cannot apply to coach and lorry tyres." He also said that the debate over tyre age had been a live issue since the 1930s.
But he added: "Without industry recommendations it's difficult to see how a servicing agent should be pointing it (the age of tyres) out.
"I wish there would be something where the servicing agent can read the dot code and at least make a recommendation the tyre should be scrapped."
Just before the crash, motorist Craig Nugent said he was just about to overtake the coach moments after it left the tunnel in dry but very dark conditions when it suddenly swerved.
"The coach deviated and went up the banking. I swerved and it was parallel with me going up the banking. I went faster to get past - I thought it was going to come back down onto the carriageway," the fisherman explained
Mr Nugent said he heard no noise but another motorist, vet Thomas Hughes, said that as he had almost overtaken the coach he heard a "very loud explosion" which caused his car to swerve and it was hit with debris that sounded like pebbles hitting his roof
"I looked in the left-hand mirror because I thought I had blown a tyre and the coach was not there," he said.
Both men stopped and called the police as they heard the commotion from the coach as survivors tried to scramble out.
Troy Walter was a passenger in a car behind the coach when it left the dual carriageway. His ex-partner stopped and he jumped out to help.
"There were a couple of people struggling to walk, there was debris on the floor," he said. The survivors were described as confused and dazed as they went onto the dual carriageway and had to be told to move off the road, the inquest was told.
Janet Fields, who was driving Mr Walter, was behind the coach. In a statement she said: "It just left the road. There were no brake lights, no skidding - it just glided off the road and then up the embankment."
Mr Molloy had just turned 18 and was described by his mother Francis as a "talented and gifted musician". The teenager from Woolton, south Liverpool, was once a member of the aspiring Liverpool-based band Hostile Radio but had gone solo.
"He was only 18, he had a promising future ahead of him as a songwriter and musician," Mrs Molloy told the inquest.
"I hope that's how he will be remembered and not as someone who died in a crash.
"He has written many songs. He wrote his first song at 13 and he was a talented and gifted musician. Since his death he's had one of his songs released (Rise and Fall) and it reached the charts."
English graduate Miss Ogden was described as keen on music and she had been to Bestival several times. Her father Robert Ogden said his daughter had the travelling bug and hoped to teach English abroad
Mr Daulby was decribed as a safe and considerate driver who loved his part-time job with the company. Tests showed he had not consumed alcohol or drugs, the hearing was told.
The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.