Swiss president to visit coach crash site: official

Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf will on Wednesday visit the scene of the coach crash that killed 28 people including 22 children, a spokesman for her office said.

Swiss president to visit coach crash site: official
World Economic Forum/Remy Steinegger (File)

“Condolences have been forwarded to the government,” in Belgium and the Swiss government “has expressed its deep sadness,” said her spokesman.

“Switzerland will do everything in its power to support the injured, their families and the families of the victims,” said a statement from the finance ministry, a portfolio she also holds.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo was also on his way to Switzerland and two army units were mobilised to transport victims’ families, from two towns in Flanders.

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

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

The bus had 52 people on board.

“We do not yet know the cause of the accident,” said Valais canton police spokesman Renato Kalbermatten was quoted as saying on the Swiss German television channel SF, part of the national broadcaster.

The SF correspondent said the bus had been travelling for only about 20 minutes on a stretch of motorway with a 100-kilometre-per-hour speed limit making it unlikely that the driver was drowsy.

The process of identifying the bodies of the victims had begun, he added.

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Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert

Due to the heavy snowfall in recent days and more expected until the weekend, an avalanche warning is issued for Switzerland’s southern canton of Valais.

Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert
Avalanche warnings should be taken very seriously. Photo by AFP

Valais authorities said the current avalanche risk level is between 4 and 5, meaning ‘high’ to ‘extreme’.

The population is urged to stay at home. When out, they should obey the signs and especially stay away from the avalanche corridors, officials warned.

Significant amounts of snow have fallen in the area in recent days, dumping 1 metre of snow above the altitude of 2,000 metres in the upper part of the canton. Between 30 and 40 centimetres are still expected. 

The highest risk of avalanches is in the Goms valley, the Zermatt valley, as well as the entire right bank of the Rhône. 

Some particularly threatened areas could even be evacuated, authorities said.

People planning to go skiing in Valais over the next few days should check snow conditions and avalanche warnings in place, especially as many roads, mainly in Upper Valais, are cut off, and a number of villages in the Goms Valley, Lötschental and the Zermatt region are no longer accessible by road or train. 

The Avalanche Bulletin is a good source of information not just for Valais, but for all of Switzerland’s mountain regions.

READ MORE: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

Avalanches have been particularly deadly in Switzerland this winter, having claimed 14 lives so far — well above the average yearly figure of eight people.

Avalanches have caused casualties in the mountains of Valais, Vaud, Graubünden, Obwalden and Schwyz. 

With many people concerned about the potential for contracting coronavirus on the slopes, the idea of skiing off piste has become more attractive. 

But this practice can trigger massive avalanches, so it is crucial to stay away from unsecured slopes.

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread