• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Families fly to scene of fatal Swiss bus crash

AFP · 14 Mar 2012, 17:15

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.

Story continues below…

"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
Court sides with chickens in dispute over noisy henhouse
File photo: Stuart Richards

Court orders a man to pay more than 36,000 francs ($36,600) in court costs after it rejected his complaint that his neighbours’ chickens made too much noise.

Pilot of crashed Swiss jet confirmed dead
The Swiss jet was an F/A-18 Hornet. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The 27-year-old's remains are found at the crash site.

17-year-old dies from injuries after Salez train attack
The attack happened on a Südostbahn (SOB) train on August 13th. Photo: AFP photo/newspictures.ch/Beat Kaelin

Teenager is the second victim to die in the attack, which also killed the perpetrator.

Chewbacca stolen in ‘terrorist attack’ on Swiss hair salon
There's now only one Chewbacca in the salon's window display. Photo: Coiffure X

Reward posted after masked man kidnaps giant cut-out of Star Wars character.

Army locates crashed Swiss jet, pilot still missing
The Swiss jet was an F/A-18 Hornet. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The remains of a Swiss army fighter jet that disappeared over the Alps on Monday have been located in central Switzerland.

Swiss prisons fear drone deliveries to inmates
File photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

Could drones be used to deliver weapons to prisoners?

United Nations weighs in on burqini ban debate
A London demonstration against the burqini ban. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

Burqini bans "fuel religious intolerance" says a UN spokesman.

Record numbers sign up for Swiss Erasmus replacement
File photo: Francisco Osorio

More people than ever are taking part in Switzerland’s study abroad scheme, despite the fact the country is no longer a full member of the EU’s Erasmus programme.

Search underway for pilot of Swiss jet missing in Alps
A Swiss F/A-18 Hornet jet. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The jet is believed to have crashed while taking part in a training exercise.

Why Switzerland is getting worse for expats
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Switzerland plunges 17 places in a global survey of expat life.

Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: AFP
National
Foreigners in Switzerland surpass 2 million mark
Photo: AFP
National
Expert predicts major quake for Switzerland by 2040
Photo: The Local
National
Geneva runs out of permits for non-EU workers
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Photo:C Carlstead
National
Geneva advises teachers on religion in school
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Photo: Starship
Technology
Swiss Post trials robot parcel deliveries in Bern
Photo: AFP
Politics
Survey: Swiss optimistic about Brexit effect
Photo: Neil Heritage/Endeavour Fund
Features
Amputee's Matterhorn trek 'makes it more possible' for others
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: EPFL
International
Switzerland tops global innovation table – again
Photo: Vasily Cotovanu
National
Asylum centre plans shelved after Swiss village protests
Photo: The Local
Politics
Neuchâtel looks to boost rights for foreigners
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Photo: AFP
Sport
In pictures: final day success takes Swiss to seven medals
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Photo: AFP
National
Experts debate rail security following Swiss train attack
File photo: AFP
Sport
Two basejumpers die in Lauterbrunnen accidents
Photo: AFP
International
Amnesty fears for child migrants at Italian border
Photo: AXA Winterthur
National
Report: Geneva is Swiss capital of car theft
Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP
National
Top tips for watching the meteor shower in Switzerland
File photo: Andrew Turner
Technology
Swiss start-up to offer drone service to farmers
Photo: Beat Strasser
National
British quadruple amputee summits Matterhorn
Photo: Judit Klein
National
Switzerland sees rise in child victims of forced marriage
Photo: Michael Schlick/OS Muhr
National
Swiss hiker in Austria rescued after sending SOS to America
Photo: Chris Murphy
Features
14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland
Photo: AFP
Lifestyle
Swiss resort unveils huge ‘natural’ fresco on mountain
Photo: C Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism
National
Five great Swiss traditions all expats should try
4,400
jobs available