Victims of deadly Swiss coach crash mourned

Belgium is mourning the deaths of 28 people – 22 of them children – in a coach crash in Switzerland.

The coach, carrying 52 people back to Belgium following a skiing trip, struck a wall in a tunnel on Tuesday.

Relatives of the victims have flown to Switzerland – with many unsure about the fate of their children.

King Albert said his thoughts “go out to the victims and their families”. Investigators say there is no indication that the bus was speeding.

The bus crashed shortly after 21:00 (20:00 GMT) on Tuesday near Sierre, in the Swiss canton of Valais, close to the border with Italy.

The Belgian foreign ministry said most of the children were aged around 12, and the bus was one of three hired by a Christian group. The other two reached Belgium safely.

The children had spent a week skiing in Val d’Anniviers in the Swiss Alps.

Those on board the bus that crashed were from the Stekske primary school in Lommel, near the Dutch border, and from St Lambertus in Heverlee, near Leuven, with the numbers roughly even.

Although most of the victims are Belgian, Swiss officials say the dead include seven Dutch children. Among those injured are three Dutch, one Pole and one German.

The 24 injured have been taken to hospitals in Sion, Bern and Lausanne. Officials say three were in a coma.

A helpline for families has been set up. 

PM Elio Di Rupo: “We know that this deep pain is rooted inside every parent, every family”

Early on Wednesday distraught relatives attended meetings at St Lambertus school, where they were given the names of pupils known to have survived.

“Parents who know their child is alive are relieved, but for the others it’s terrible,” said parish priest Dirk De Gendt.

Speaking outside the primary school in Lommel, local bishop Patrick Hoogmartens said the families were feeling powerless.

“None of the parents knows what has happened exactly, if their child has been affected or not,” he said.

About 100 relatives later flew to Switzerland on board a government plane.

They were comforted by the royal couple as they left from a military airport near Brussels.

Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo – who also travelled to Switzerland on Wednesday – told reporters in Sion that is was “an absolutely tragic day” for Belgium.

‘Like war’

During the news conference Swiss prosecutor Olivier Elsig said the bus was nearly new.

It hit a concrete wall that forms part of an emergency access section head-on, in a tunnel where the speed limit is 100km/h (62 mph).

Mr Elsig said the speed of the bus was still being determined, but there was no indication that it was travelling too fast.

The children on the bus were wearing seat belts and no other vehicle was involved, he added.

Mr Elsig said that possible causes being investigated included a technical failure, the driver suffering a health problem, or “human error”.

Earlier, Belgian Transport Minister Melchior Wathelet said the company that ran the coach, Toptours, had “an excellent reputation”.

He said: “The drivers had arrived the night before and had rested during the day before departure. It seems that the law on driving and rest periods has been respected.”

Both the drivers were among the dead.

Valais police chief Christian Varone described the site as “a scene like a war”.

The European Parliament observed a minute’s silence at noon.

-www.bbc.co.uk/