Teacher gave driver DVD before crash: survivor

A Swiss bus crash which killed 22 children and six adults may have been caused by a teacher who distracted the driver by handing him a DVD film to play, a newspaper said on Sunday.

The allegation surfaced in Le Matin Dimanche which cited the father of a girl who was seriously wounded in the crash late Tuesday as the group returned from a skiing holiday.

“My daughter said the last thing she remembers is that one of the teachers went to the driver with a DVD,” the paper reported the father, who was not named, as saying.

Swiss prosecutor Olivier Elsig told the ATS news agency that “the screens lit up and the children saw the menu for a film.”

But he said there was no testimony about the presence of another person in front of the bus who might have distracted the driver.

Investigators said the only thing that had been established was that all six adults were sitting in the front of the bus.

Elsig said Swiss investigators would travel to Belgium to interview the surviving children for more insight into the tragedy.

The victims included Belgian and Dutch school children aged 11 and 12 years old.

It is believed that the coach carrying 46 children, four teachers and two drivers clipped a kerb before it slammed into the wall of a tunnel.

Investigators are still looking into the theories that technical problems with the coach or human error caused the crash. Alcohol, speed and driver illness have so far been ruled out as the cause of the crash.

A service of remembrance will be held Wednesday in the Belgian town of Lommel, which was home to 15 of the children and two of the adults killed.

Burial services, however, will be held privately.

The king and queen of the Belgians, Albert II and Paola, along with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and Dutch Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima will attend the service.

They will also attend a service of remembrance Thursday in Louvain, their offices said on Sunday.

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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