A teenage boy and his grandfather have died after their car was struck by a train as they made their way to a football match.
Will Hallett, 15, and his granddad Barry Hearnshaw, 72, died instantly after their car was hit by a train at a level crossing on Saturday morning.
The pair are understood to have been on their way to a football match where Will was due to play.
Devastated friends paid tribute to the “popular and friendly” teenager as they laid flowers close to the scene of the tragedy.
One fellow pupil said: “He was popular and friendly. He loved his football. Everyone knew Will. He was a lovely, friendly guy. We’re so upset. I can’t imagine what school is going to be like without him.”
Another family friend said: “It’s just awful. It’s a shocking, shocking thing to have happened. Everyone is asking how it happened when that level crossing is generally safe.”
Rail investigators were last night examining the scene of the crash close to the village of Barns Green, near Horsham West Sussex as it emerged Will’s younger brother was supposed to be in the car at the same time.
One friend said: “He was due to be in the car at the same time as I think he was going to watch his older brother play football but, for whatever reason, he didn’t go. Thanks goodness.”
Will Hallett was a pupil at Tanbridge House School near Horsham where he was known as a talented and enthusiastic football player.
A keen Chelsea fan, he played with the Horsham Sparrows FC and was known for his athleticism and fitness.
Fighting back tears, one friend said: “He was a really good player. He’s always loved playing football and he was really, really good. Everyone is totally devastated by this. We don’t know how it happened.”
The smash happened at around 8.40am on Saturday morning on the tracks near Barns Green, between Horsham and Billingshurst, at the level crossing on Emms Road just to the south of the village.
Mr Hearnshaw, 72 was driving the car and his 15-year-old grandson was the passenger. No-one on the train was injured.
An eye-witness described the blue car the pair were travelling in “disintegrated” on impact leaving wreckage strewn across the tracks.
He was a lovely, friendly guy. We’re so upset. I can’t imagine what school is going to be like without him.
Friend of Will Hallett
One passenger said: “The train stopped suddenly and then people started screaming. Then we saw the fire so we moved up the train, and they evacuated the train."
Another eye-witness said: “The car broke in two and burst into flames. There was wreckage everywhere and one half of the car burst into flames.
‘The occupants just didn’t stand a chance. There was a plume of smoke over the accident site. It’s just so tragic. Everyone was in total shock.”
British Transport Police (BTP) said their family was being supported by specialist officers.
Detective Inspector Brett Walker from British Transport Police said: “This is an extremely tragic incident and our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.
“Our officers have been working at the scene, and will continue to do so for the rest of the day, to ensure we gain as much information about how the collision happened.
“People should expect some disruption to services in the area while we investigate. I would like to thank the community in Barns Green for their support and patience.
“Local people will see more of our officers in the area throughout the day and I would urge anyone who saw what happened, or feels they may have any information which would be relevant to our investigation, to contact us.”
A spokesman for Southern Rail said there had been no injuries or fatalities on the train, which was the 8.32am leaving Horhsam heading towards Bognor.