‘Words are useless’: Belgian Prime Minister

Belgium's premier and scores of parents headed to Switzerland on Wednesday as the entire country mourned the deaths of 22 schoolchildren and their teachers in a horrific coach crash.

Belgium's Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo
Luc Van Braekel (File)

“This is a tragic day for all of Belgium,” Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said in a statement before flying to the scene of the disaster.

“Words are useless,” he told national radio and TV networks providing round-the-clock coverage of the horrific crash. “We are speechless.”

Di Rupo flew to Switzerland as parents of the children returning from a skiing holiday gathered at one of their schools before also heading for Switzerland aboard a government plane.

At Heverlee, near Leuven, home to some of the other crash victims, the atmosphere was fraught as it was not yet known who had died and who had survived.

Relatives gathered at the Sint-Lambertus School while students were ferried to another school.

“We know some of the children are OK, but we don’t have names,” said the headnaster of Sint-Lambertus, some 30 kilometres east of Brussels, where 24 children, a teacher and a teacher’s assistant were registered.

“We asked the parents to come and we are trying to comfort them,” Marc Carels told RTL television.

Belgium Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, visibly moved, visited the Catholic school and said he was praying for the families. “The time will come later to find the words,” he said.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, was to hold a minute of silence at noon.

A total of 28 people died in the crash in a motorway tunnel on Tuesday night, Swiss police said, including the two drivers.

The Belgian government said it was making arrangements to have relatives of the victims flown out and accompanied to Switzerland.

The bus, which was carrying 52 passengers, suddenly swerved to the right and smashed into the concrete wall of an emergency lay-by. Another 24 children were reported injured in the crash.

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said two army aircraft would be used to fly the relatives to Switzerland but officials later said they would leave in a single Airbus.

“The aim is to accompany the families who want to go to Switzerland,” said Reynders, who was speaking from Vietnam where he is on an official visit.

A psychological support team was also on hand, he added.

“Our first thought was the distress of the families,” he said.

Peter Vanvelthoven, the mayor of Lommel in northeast Belgium, where some of the schoolchildren went to school, said they were also trying to help the families.

“We have arranged a reception at the school, first for the parents, for the children and for the teachers, too,” he said.

“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 added.

“Yesterday evening, they were looking forward to seeing them and they won’t see them again.”

The Belgian transport company that ran the coach that crashed was Toptours, based in Aarschot, central Belgium, said Wathelet.

“The company … enjoys an excellent reputation,” he added.

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

The two coach drivers who died in the accident had arrived in Switzerland the day before. The coach had been built in 2002.

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US teen who drowned in Switzerland was ‘piano prodigy’

The 13-year-old American boy who drowned recently in the Burgseeli near Interlaken has been described as an accomplished pianist and hockey player by his family.

US teen who drowned in Switzerland was 'piano prodigy'
Albert Yin was described as a gentle giant. Photo: Albert Yin Memorial Fund

Albert Yin from Maryland drowned in late June while swimming in the lake which is popular bathing spot in summer.

The boy was rescued by a police diver and resuscitated at the scene. He was then airlifted to hospital. But he later died at the facility.

Albert was a great ice hockey player and pianist, according to comments made by his family to US broadcaster CBS

“Over the summer, we go to perform in prestigious venues overseas. So this year, we had gone to Italy and we had gone to Switzerland and after our concerts, we would go to do vacation and touristy things,” his sister Margaret told CBS. 

The day before Albert died, the 13-year-old had performed the Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt at the Culture and Convention Centre (KKL) in Lucerne. 

Albert Yin's have now sent up a crowdfunding campaign to help fund funeral expenses and the setting up of a memorial scholarship in his name. 

A Swiss police investigation into the teen's death is still underway, according to the Blick newspaper.