A nation grieves as 24 coffins lie in state

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The Independent Online

As the coffins of their children were lined up in a football stadium yesterday, the grief-stricken families of 21 teenagers killed in a bus crash in northern Spain walked slowly across the emerald turf to pay their respects at an open-air funeral Mass.

As the coffins of their children were lined up in a football stadium yesterday, the grief-stricken families of 21 teenagers killed in a bus crash in northern Spain walked slowly across the emerald turf to pay their respects at an open-air funeral Mass.

The head-on collision on Thursday night, in which 28 people died, has left this small farming town stunned. It was a sombre spectacle that unfolded in the home of Soria's Numancia football club.

Twenty-four heavy oak coffins, each bearing a vast floral wreath, lay side by side upon a scarlet carpet. Black-banded flags of Spain and the autonomous regions of Castile and Leon and Catalonia fluttered gently in a soft morning breeze.

Two bishops conducted the service, their gilded mitres and croziers glinting in the brilliant sunshine. Facing them, on folding wooden chairs in the middle of the pitch, sat the grieving families. In the front row, Queen Sofia was dressed in black, accompanied by a collection of senior politicians.

The crash was in the village of Golmayo, near Soria, 125 miles north of Madrid. A lorry laden with pigs crossed into oncoming traffic and rammed into the bus, which had been taking 33 youngsters and three adult helpers to a summer camp run by Gabrielist religious brothers in the central town of Aranda del Duero. The bus turned over and plunged down an embankment.

Rescuers worked frantically to pull survivors and mangled bodies from the wreckage, while the pigs rooted in fields near by. Twelve survivors were rescued from the two twisted vehicles. Some remained seriously ill in hospital yesterday, others were released during the day.

The families arrived in Soria after an all-night bus ride from their homes near Barcelona, without knowing - until they had seen for themselves - whether the children they had waved off on holiday less than 24 hours earlier were alive or dead.

They came to the stadium - which was used as an improvised mortuary - supported by some 20 psychologists, Red Cross workers and religious leaders brought in to help them cope with their trauma.

"Oh my God, they've taken my daughter from me," wailed one woman, after examining the bodies. It was a cry repeated throughout the early hours.

Besides the children, the dead included four school monitors, the mother of an injured teacher and the drivers of the two vehicles. Nine teenagers were among the injured.

Social workers stressed yesterday that those affected were still in shock. "Let them cry. There's no way we can alleviate their pain, they must let it out, they must offload their grief and rage," said one helper.

Officials attributed the crash to human error. Both vehicles were in good order. The motorway had been clearly signposted at the collision scene, with a lane for slow vehicles.

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