Belgium marks bus crash deaths with minute's silence


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The Independent Online

Belgium has marked the deaths of 28 people in a school coach crash with a minute's silence observed by schoolchildren, politicians, factory workers, shoppers and motorists across the country.

Travellers at bus, underground and railway stations were asked to pause until church bells rang out to sound the end of the moment of remembrance - the centrepiece of what was declared a national day of mourning within hours of Monday's accident.

Parents stood in silence at the schools in Lommel and Heverlee, which lost a total of 22 pupils when their coach hit a wall in a Swiss tunnel on the way back from a ski trip.

The other victims were teachers from the schools and the coach's two drivers.

As the inquiry into the crash went on in Switzerland, it emerged that a British boy, with a British father and Belgian mother, was among the victims.

Sebastian Bowles, 11, was a pupil at St Lambertus School in Heverlee, where children gathered in the playground for the minute's silence were handed white balloons to release into the sky.

Sebastian's father Edward and mother Ann returned to Belgium from Switzerland last night and are identifying their son's body.

The family moved to Belgium only two years ago to be close to Mrs Bowles's relatives.

Shortly before today's mark of respect, two transport planes arrived at a military airfield near Brussels carrying the bodies of the 28 victims, now all identified. Hearses then carried the bodies back to their respective home regions around Heverlee and Lommel, near the Dutch border.

Meanwhile in Brussels, government officials and politicians gathered in rows outside buildings. At European Commission headquarters, flags were flying at half-mast.

Some commercial television stations halted transmissions for much longer than one minute, cancelling many programmes altogether.

Mr and Mrs Bowles lived in Crouch End, north London, before moving to Belgium, where Sebastian joined St Lambertus School.

Like other pupils on the ski trip to the Alps, he had used a school blog to express delight at his emerging skiing skills.

Within days the coach, carrying a total of 50 pupils and teachers from two schools plus the two drivers, had hit a wall inside the Tunnel de Geronde near the town of Sierre in Switzerland, barely an hour after the start of their journey home.

Swiss crash investigators say they are studying three possible causes of the crash - human error, a health problem with the driver, or a technical problem with the coach.

With some of the 24 recovering crash victims beginning to talk about their ordeal, Belgian and Swiss newspapers were speculating that the coach driver might have been involved in efforts to change a disc on the coach's entertainment system shortly before the accident.

The coach is believed to have clipped a kerb inside the tunnel before veering into a lay-by which culminated in a solid brick wall.