• Switzerland's news in English
 

Families fly to scene of fatal Swiss bus crash

Published: 14 Mar 2012 08:40 GMT+01:00
Updated: 14 Mar 2012 17:15 GMT+01:00

Distraught families of victims of a horrific school bus crash in a Swiss Alpine tunnel that killed 28 people flew to the scene on Wednesday, still unaware if their children were alive or dead.

The coach bringing 46 children and four teachers back to Belgium from a skiing holiday hit a concrete wall late Tuesday in the motorway tunnel near the town of Sierre.

A total of 22 children from two Catholic primary schools were killed, along with the teachers and both coach drivers, and 24 reported injured.

The injured, three of whom were said to be in a coma, were taken by ambulance and helicopter to four hospitals as fire crews worked for hours to cut them free from the twisted wreckage of the coach.

Belgium announced a day of national mourning, while the Swiss parliament observed a minute's silence for the victims.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf were due to visit the site of the crash later on Wednesday.

"This is a tragic day for all of Belgium," said Di Rupo.

As well as Belgians, the children included 10 of Dutch nationality and one Pole, authorities said.

Police in the southern Valais canton told reporters early on Wednesday that the tragedy was "unprecedented" and that even seasoned rescuers had been traumatised.

Surgeon Jean-Pierre Dellars said in one of the hospitals: "All the rescuers were shocked by what they have experienced."

The injuries were so bad that the death toll could well rise, he added.  

The coach, in a convoy of three hired by Catholic education authorities in Belgium's Flanders region, carried pupils from primary schools in Lommel, near the Dutch border, and Heverlee, in the suburbs of Leuven in the centre.

"The magnitude of the accident is difficult to digest ... for the moment I am concentrating on the practical aspects," said Belgium's ambassador in Switzerland Jan Luykx who visited the accident site early on Wednesday.

"The emotional side will come when we meet with the families," he added.

Belgian authorities said were doing everything they could to ensure that the families of the victims were kept informed and treated with dignity, the prime minister's office said.

But at Heverlee parish priest Dirk de Guedt said the parents did not know which children had been killed and which had survived.

Of the 22 children from the 't Stekske school in Lommel, five had phoned their parents but there was no news of 17 others, deputy mayor Kris Verduyckt was quoted as saying by Belga news agency.

"I'm at a loss for words," Transport Minister Melchior Wathelet told RTBF radio. "Terribly hurt, terribly moved.

"We are all thinking like parents, with this terrible thought for the those parents who will not see their children coming back today," he said.

"Yesterday evening, they were looking forward to seeing them and they won't see them again."

It was unclear what caused the bus to swerve to the right, mounting the kerb before hitting a concrete wall at the end of an emergency lay-by. The accident happened between the east and west exits for the city of Sion.

Belgian transport company Toptours operated the 2002-registered coach and had an "excellent reputation," said Wathelet.

"It has always respected the rules," regarding safety, he added.

The bus was towed for examination to a cantonal police depot close to the site of the accident early on Wednesday.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Federer through to the last 16 of Wimbledon
Federer on his way to victory over Groth. Photo: Tim Ireland/AP

Federer through to the last 16 of Wimbledon

Seven-time champion Roger Federer defeated big-serving Australian Sam Groth to reach the Wimbledon last 16 on Saturday. READ  

Swiss cut bus and train fares as ozone spikes
Revellers throw water during a "giant water battle against the heatwave" in Lausanne. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Swiss cut bus and train fares as ozone spikes

Regional authorities in Switzerland temporarily cut bus and train fares Saturday to encourage people to leave their cars at home, as a scorching heatwave sent ozone pollution levels soaring. READ  

Solar Impulse 2 reaches Hawaii to make history
Pilots Bertrand Piccard (L) and Andre Borschberg, celebrate after Borschberg landed at Kalaeloa Airport, Hawaii, on Friday. Photo: Eugene Tanner / AFP

Solar Impulse 2 reaches Hawaii to make history

The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft completed a historic flight in its quest to circle the globe without consuming a drop of fuel, touching down gracefully in Hawaii on Friday after the most arduous leg of its journey. READ  

Wimbledon 2015
Verdasco victory sends Wawrinka to fourth round
Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

Verdasco victory sends Wawrinka to fourth round

Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka reached the fourth round of the Wimbledon tennis tournament on Friday with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win over Spain's Fernando Verdasco. READ  

Solar Impulse 2 nears Hawaii on historic flight
Borschberg in the cockpit of the solar plane. Photo: Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse 2 nears Hawaii on historic flight

After more than four and a half days of flying across the Pacific and setting a record for solo flight, Switzerland’s Solar Impulse 2 airplane was set to arrive in Hawaii on Friday on its epic journey around the world. READ  

Sponsors will flee Fifa without reforms: lawyer
Photo: AFP

Sponsors will flee Fifa without reforms: lawyer

A former top Fifa official who left after criticizing its president Sepp Blatter has warned that big sponsors will start leaving world football's Zurich-based governing body unless major reforms are undertaken. READ  

Commuters stuck in trains without electricity
Photo: Kecko

Commuters stuck in trains without electricity

Heat took its toll on morning rail commuters on Geneva-Lausanne and Olten-Zurich routes on Friday as trains were blocked due to problems with overhead electrical wires. READ  

Swiss baby boom boosted by immigration
Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Swiss baby boom boosted by immigration

Switzerland is bucking the trend in the rest of Europe with a rising birth rate bolstered by immigration, new federal figures show. READ  

Glider pilot dies in Swiss junior championships
Glider (not the one involved in the crash) prepares to land. Photo: Paul Haliday

Glider pilot dies in Swiss junior championships

A 25-year-old man died after the glider he was piloting in a competition crashed in the municipality of Klosters in the canton of Graubünden, police said on Thursday. READ  

Solar Impulse pilot fights fatigue close to Hawaii
Photo: Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse pilot fights fatigue close to Hawaii

A Swiss solar-powered aircraft flying from Japan to Hawaii on the most perilous leg of a round-the-globe bid has beaten the record for the longest solo flight, the project's team said on Thursday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
National weather office extends danger alerts as heatwave takes hold
National
Most severe heatwave in Switzerland since 2003 on the way
Travel
Bogglingly expensive Geneva club sandwiches remain 'priciest in world'
Politics
Anti-immigration nationalist party remains most popular: poll
National
Greek finance minister slams Swiss over lack of tax evasion info
Business & Money
Insects proposed for sale in Swiss supermarkets next year
Sponsored Article
Geneva's revolutionary marketing education
National
'Oh God — I'm coming': noisy lovers' complaint goes public
National
Canton of Ticino threatens closing Italy border to asylum seekers
Sponsored Article
Swiss chocolate with a story: Blondel
National
Just in case: Swiss National Bank prepares for Grexit 'crisis'
National
Russian crisis fuelled by sanctions threaten 40,000 Swiss jobs: study
National
Art Basel: Art for art's sake — or to make an investment?
National
New survey ranks Zurich Europe's priciest city for expatriates
National
Quarter of residents in Switzerland 'have multiple homes'
Features
Veggie lovers and 'flexitarians' challenge Swiss meat-eating habits
National
Forest officials struggle to save Switzerland's dying ash trees
Education
Historian finds ancient Egyptian papyrus texts in Basel uni library
National
Seven large Swiss employers back 'flexible work' charter
National
Basel police rescue of ducks forces closure of A2 motorway
National
Mother and daughter die as rain storms lash central Switzerland
Sport
'Stan the man' Wawrinka: French Open triumph 'completely crazy'
Culture
Expat's Zurich 'then and now' video shows how little the city has changed
National
Phoney Geneva police officers rob tourists and UN staff
Sport
Blatter's abrupt resignation seen as a 'stunning capitulation'
Features
Cleanup crews head to ski resorts to keep Swiss mountains tidy
Culture
Interlaken museum showcases works by Picasso using Caran d'Ache pencils
National
Low interest rates give tenants right to seek rent reductions in Switzerland
Sport
Switzerland's Blatter fends off critics to win fifth term as Fifa president
National
Agricultural researchers discover why Swiss cheese has holes
Culture
Swiss filmmaker returns home to shoot 'gender-fluid' film in Ticino
Features
Severed rope recalls Matterhorn's first ascent 150 years ago
National
Top Swiss court refuses to recognize child's two gay 'fathers'
National
Woman's scoop for Ticino online news site: 'I killed my husband'
National
Four Swiss bathing areas 'unfit' for swimmers: Euro environmental body
Technology
Scientists from Zurich university find craters beneath Lake Neuchâtel
National
Prince William in Switzerland backs fight to protect endangered species
National
Swiss Federal Railways rely on sheep to 'mow' grass alongside tracks
Sport
Switzerland to host 2020 international ice hockey tourney
Business & Money
I never learned German: departing Credit Suisse CEO's regret
Sport
International tennis museum in US showcases Federer hologram
National
Inequality greater than most Swiss think: opinion poll for unions
National
Shooting in Switzerland leaves five dead in domestic drama near Zurich
National
Swiss Federal Railways tackle taboo subject of suicide in bid to cut deaths
National
German expats in Switzerland face discrimination: report
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

4,419
jobs available