A teacher has been killed and more than 20 people hurt after a coach crashed while bringing a Worcestershire school party home from a skiing trip in Italy.

which crashed near Chalons-en-Champagne, in northern France, early on Sunday.

Relatives of Peter Rippington, 59, who died, said they were "devastated".

Up to five people were seriously hurt, with one described as critically ill, and 22 suffered minor injuries.

Mr Rippington's relatives said they were "extremely concerned" for the teacher's wife, Sharon, who was also injured in the accident.

'Wonderful man'
Travel company Interski said the coach, which was returning to the UK from the Aosta Valley, Italy, left the motorway and came to rest at the bottom of an embankment.

The firm, which organised the trip, said the accident happened at about 02:30 GMT (03:30 local time) on the A26 motorway, near Chalons-en-Champagne in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, on the road between Troyes and the port of Calais.

There had been two coaches in the party travelling back, and the other one has arrived back at the school.

There had been 20 adults - including two drivers - and 29 children on board.

The Foreign Office said four or five people - including children - had been seriously or critically injured. All the casualties were being treated in hospital.

In a statement, relatives of Mr Rippington said: "We, as a family, are devastated at the tragic loss of Peter, a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend and teacher.

"We are still extremely concerned about the health of his wife, Sharon, who was injured and is still recovering in hospital in France. Sharon is accompanied by her daughter Amy, who escaped the incident with minor injuries."

The Foreign Office's helpline is 0207 008 1500
Alvechurch is a Church of England middle school, with pupils' ages ranging from nine to 13.

Sue Rejoni, from Alvechurch, whose children used to attend the school, had come to lay flowers in tribute to the teacher.

She said: "He taught two of my children and he made the world of difference to them. My son Josh is studying engineering at Coventry University, in part thanks to him.

"We are devastated by this loss and the whole village has been affected."

Her daughter Jess Callow, 15, said: "He took me for maths for the four years I was at the school. He was a great teacher."

Kimberley Thornton, 23, from Redditch, said: "He was my form tutor, he was absolutely amazing. He was one of the only teachers I remember from the school.

"He was just really different kind of person, I could talk to him."

Michael Darby, 16, who was taught maths for four years by the teacher, had come to the school with his mother to lay flowers as a tribute.

He told the BBC: "He was a wonderful man, he was firm but fair."

Supt Steve Cullen, of West Mercia Police, said: "This is a very sad incident and I want to express our sympathy to all those affected by the crash.

"I also want to reassure local people that we are doing all we can to support and help the families of the children and members of the staff involved."

He said specially trained family liaison officers had been put in place at the school.

Councillor Liz Eyre, from children's services at the Worcestershire County Council, said: "We're shocked and saddened about the accident earlier this morning. Our thoughts are with those involved and their families."

She said the school was planning to open as planned on Monday.

Local councillor June Griffiths said: "There is one youngster who is critically ill and I believe there are two other girls with serious injuries, so we need to make sure that the parents of those children can get out to them.

"The community is in shock - the school has been going on these holidays and has been waving the children goodbye year after year and they've been coming back safely."

Driver questioned
Interski said in a statement on its website that those unhurt were being cared for at a sports complex in the region. They were receiving attention from the French Red Cross, which was providing psychological support.

Six ski instructors from the company were among those on board, the Mansfield-based firm added.

The vehicle involved was owned by Solus Coaches, which is based in Tamworth, Staffordshire.

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris said it appeared the coach was the only vehicle involved.

Police said initial tests on the driver, who was slightly injured, showed he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Officers were investigating whether the driver might have fallen asleep at the wheel, our correspondent added.

People in the UK who are worried about relatives and friends should call the Foreign Office's helpline on 0207 008 1500.