x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Agony for parents in Belgium after school coach crash kills 28 in Switzerland

A bus carrying 54 people hit the tunnel wall late on Tuesday on near the southern town of Sierre, Switzerland, in an area of popular ski resorts.

Parents and teachers wait for news at the Sint-Lambertus school in Belgium after a coach crashed into the wall of a tunnel in Sierre in the Valais region of Switzerland, killing 28 people, 22 of them children.
Parents and teachers wait for news at the Sint-Lambertus school in Belgium after a coach crashed into the wall of a tunnel in Sierre in the Valais region of Switzerland, killing 28 people, 22 of them children.

HEVERLEE, BELGIUM // Faces drawn and carrying overnight bags, parents arrived at dawn yesterday at a Belgian primary school, anxious to find out if their children were among the 28 killed in a Swiss coach crash.

Hours later, with most still in the dark on the fate of their children, they were boarding a government Airbus for Switzerland to words of comfort from King Albert II and Queen Paola.

"They're sitting there, inside, without knowing," said the parish priest Dirk De Gendt as the town of Heverlee tried to absorb the full horror of the overnight tragedy in a tunnel under the Swiss Alps. "Parents who know their child is alive are relieved, but for the others it's terrible."

The bus carrying 54 people, including students from two different Belgian schools, hit the tunnel wall late on Tuesday on near the southern town of Sierre, Switzerland, in an area of popular ski resorts. Out of the 28 passengers who died, 22 were children.

Authorities were still identifying all the victims yesterday, said Didier Reynders, the Belgian foreign minister. It was unclear exactly how the accident happened.

"It is incomprehensible," Mr Reynders said.

After being informed of the crash by phone, parents began arriving at Sint-Lambertus, the tiny Catholic school in the Leuven suburbs, at 7am, some returning home to fetch their things before heading to the military airport.

A total of 24 pupils along with their teacher and a teaching assistant were aboard the coach when it swerved and smashed at high speed into a concrete wall in the tunnel.

Both the adults were killed, said Father De Gendt.

Of the 24 pupils, "16 suffered different injuries, some broken arms or legs, but they are alive," said Father De Gendt.

But the school had "no news" of the remaining eight, added the priest, who knew the children well as he had been preparing them to take communion.

The high number of injuries from Sint-Lambertus appeared to imply bad news for students from another school in the town of Lommel.

Belgian television said the Lommel students had been sitting at the mangled front of the bus. Television images showed tearful parents running into the Lommel school building in hope of news as strained family and friends huddled outside to wait.

* With additional reporting by Associated Press