A ‘hero’ bus driver who was bleeding “heavily” refused to leave his crashed coach until he had helped every one of his passengers clamber to safety.
The 54-year-old was injured along with 16 others when the vehicle veered off a motorway slip road and landed on its side in the early hours of Friday morning.
Passengers suffered injuries including broken bones, cuts and bruises when the Oxford Bus Company coach full of holidaymakers returning from London’s Heathrow Airport crashed off the M40.
One of those on board told The Mirror they were thrown from their seat and smashed into a pane of glass forcing them to climb over seats to escape.
The university student added: “Someone shouted that they could smell fuel so we all tried to clamber out which meant clambering over the seats.
“At one point we were actually walking on the overhead luggage racks.
“The bus driver was at what was the front of the bus and helped us all out even though he was obviously bleeding pretty heavily and some of his blood was on the floor.
“He wouldn’t leave the bus until all the passengers were off.”
Medics had struggled to get to the scene because of “thick fog” with Thames Valley Police closing down the road for several hours.
The driver was “very experienced” and has been working overnight shifts for many years, according to company boss Phil Southall.
He said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the crash which happened when the bus was returning to Oxford.
Mr Southall said: “At around 0245 this morning, one of our airline coaches returning to Oxford from Heathrow airport left the slip road at junction 7 of the M40, and for reasons still being investigated, the vehicle ended up on its side.
“There were 16 passengers on board, all of whom were taken to the John Radcliffe hospital for assessment.
“We are thankful that there were no serious injuries, and we have been advised that injuries incurred were a spinal injury, a broken collarbone, minor head injuries and cuts and bruises.
“Our thoughts are with those who have been injured, particularly at this time of year.
“Company representatives have spoken with all those involved and are continuing to assist the emergency services with their investigations.
“The driver of the coach was also taken to hospital.
“We are doing everything we can to assist those involved in this unfortunate incident, and have been working closely with the emergency services at the scene in what has been a very challenging environment.
“The driver of the coach is 54 years old, very experienced, and has worked for the company for 20 years. He has been working overnight shifts for a number of years.”
Thames Valley Police said no arrests has been made but confirmed the conditions at the time of the crash were “foggy”.
It follows a fog warning to drivers covering swathes of England, and the crash happened just 20 miles from a fatal pile-up on the A40 in Oxfordshire in similarly treacherous conditions on Wednesday morning.
A South Central Ambulance Service spokesman said the crash had been declared a “major incident” because of the number of casualties involved.
He added: “There was thick fog in the area at the time of the accident which also presented challenges to the emergency services getting to the scene.”
Six ambulances helped take the 17 casualties to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
The Met Office said “freezing fog” had settled in patches of the country and poor visibility could persist into Friday afternoon.
On Friday morning, Met meteorologist Emma Sillitoe said: “The main thing we have had is large, dense freezing fog patches.
“People driving around in the morning should take care on the roads.”
Visibility could be as low as 91 metres and ice could still develop on the roads, she added.
The “yellow” fog warning, issued until 10am on Friday, affects much of southern England but patches of freezing fog had been witnessed from the Midlands and the Humber to the South West.
The fog is set to lift and thin slowly and could linger into the late morning and early afternoon, particularly in the South East and East Anglia, the Met Office said.
On Thursday, temperatures dipped to freezing levels in areas such as Suffolk, Gloucestershire, Cumbria, Devon and northern Scotland.
The AA urged “extreme caution” for those heading out on the roads, adding that extra time should be allowed, tyres properly inflated and windscreens adequately de-iced.
Spokesman Ian Crowder said on Thursday: “We have got the worst possible conditions really, of fog and icy roads, and that can be lethal.
“I think the message is extreme caution and to prepare for the worst and make sure all windows are clear.”