Girl who helped rescue students from bus wreckage: 'I just wanted to get everyone out'

By David Raleigh

A Limerick teenager who risked her own safety to help rescue younger children after their school bus crashed into a field said the dramatic incident has inspired her to one day become a paramedic.

Aislinn Merrick and Luke O’Dea, both from Caherconlish, were travelling to John the Baptist Community School, in Hospital, when their school bus - with 46 students on board - was in collision with a car and left the road, Wednesday.

Aislinn Merrick. Pictures: Press 22

After the bus came to a halt on its side in a field, Leaving Certificate student Aislinn, and fifth year student Luke, remained inside the wreckage to make sure their fellow students got out first.

Aislinn said it was “a miracle” everyone on the bus escaped with their lives.

Speaking at her home, Thursday, Aislinn, (18), said she heard a “bang”, and that passengers started “screaming”.

She said younger students were frozen with fear that the bus might have caught fire.

Moments before the bus crashed into the field, Aislinn said she “heard what sounded like branches coming against the bus”. “Then there was a huge bang…then there were (electrical) telephone cables along the window.”

“No one had any time to react. It just happened so quick. Everyone was disorientated and then (the bus) went straight into the ditch and toppled over.”

“It was just chaos. It was bad. There were people screaming…but we managed to get everyone out.”

She added: “Some people were falling. A few people landed on top of each other. It was lucky no one got thrown out of the windows.”

“There was a few students that were so scared they couldn't move. We had to get them out. I helped get them out through the shattered window.”

She said others managed to get out via a skylight window that was also smashed in the impact.

Aislinn - the eldest passenger on board - was the last student to leave.

“The bus driver was still there…but we couldn't move him…Luke was checking on the driver and said that an ambulance had been called.”

“It was a gift to have mobile phones with us because we were able to contact our parents as fast as possible,” she said.

Aislinn said she didn't believe she was a hero.

She also offered a terrified younger student, who had lost a shoe, one of her own shoes so she could “walk across the glass and get out fast”.

She paid tribute to Luke for his rescue effort; local people who offered them shelter, refreshments, and warm blankets; as well as the “amazing” emergency service workers who treated the injured.

Another student turned off the engine’s ignition for fear it would start to smoke, Aislinn said.

“There was a girl (asking) if the bus was about to go up in flames. She was kind of dazed. She just wanted to get away. There was a fear that the bus would go (on fire). I just wanted to get everyone out.”

Aislinn, who was “lucky” to escape with only a few scratches, said: “I wasn't expecting to get out of it (alive) to be honest. It was actually a miracle,” she said.

She said, despite her ordeal, she returned to school by bus Thursday to continue her pre Leaving Certificate exams: “I went on the bus. It was fine, up until we got to where (the bus) crashed, and then it was a bit scary - I was holding onto the seats a bit tighter and looking at the road a lot more than I would usually.”

Her younger brother Timmy, (14), would have been on the bus on the day of the crash but was off school sick:

“It's great that nothing (serious) happened to Aislinn or anyone else," he said. "A lot of my pals were on the bus. They were saying it was really frightening.”

Aislinn, with her father John and brother Timmy.

'I could have lost a daughter'

Proud dad, John Merrick, was milking cows on the family’s farm located about two miles from the crash scene.

“I'm very proud of Aislinn and all of the kids who got off the bus as quick as they did. When Aislinn rang me I got pretty emotional very fast.”

After dashing to the scene and seeing his daughter’s school bus lying on its side, he added: “I couldn't understand how they got out of it alive. I could have lost a daughter. I think it was a miracle.”

Asked what career she wanted to pursue after school, Aislinn replied: "I think this has inspired me to become a paramedic. They were amazing yesterday."

Noreen Rafferty, Principal, John the Baptist School, said all the students on the bus were "heroes".

"Someone up there was praying for us," she added.

Students are being offered psychological counselling at the school.

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