Rescuers seek answers as Belgium mourns 22 children in horror crash

Coach hits kerb and collides head on with tunnel wall as it returns from school ski trip

Swiss prosecutors were last night conducting an examination of the wreckage of the Belgian coach, which ploughed head-on into an alpine tunnel wall late on Tuesday, killing 28 people, including 22 schoolchildren, in one of the worst bus accidents in the country's history.

The coach, belonging to Belgian travel company Top Tours, had a total of 52 people aboard when it hit the kerb in a modern, fully-lit, one-way tunnel near Sierre in the southern Swiss Alps at about 9pm. The vehicle then swung out of control and collided head on with a wall in an emergency stopping bay. Photographs of the badly mangled front of the coach showed the vehicle's sides smeared with blood. Rescue workers spoke of "shocking scenes" as they tried to extract dead and injured children trapped in the wreckage. Christian Varone, the Swiss police chief in charge, said it was "like a war". Police and prosecutors were trying to establish whether human error or mechanical failure had caused the accident. All the children on board were said to have been wearing seatbelts. "We have no theory as yet, the investigation is still continuing," Varone told a press conference yesterday.

Although eyewitnesses said the scope of the damage suggested the bus had exceeded the 62 mph speed limit in force in the tunnel, Swiss prosecutor Olivier Elsig said yesterday the bus was not speeding. Police claimed CCTV pictures of the bus suggested it had hit both sides of the tunnel.

Jean-Pierre Deslarzes, the officer heading the rescue, said: "The rescuers have seen scores of road accidents, but this one has left many of them traumatised."

The coach had been carrying pupils from different schools in the Belgian towns of Lommel and Heverlee. With an average age of 12, they were on their way back from a week's skiing holiday in Val d'Anniviers in the Valais Alps bordering France. One of the schoolgirls had written in a blog only days before that she found the trip "mega-cool".

Six adults accompanying the party, including teachers and two bus drivers, were killed in the crash. A further 24 pupils were injured, many of them seriously. More than 200 police, firemen and medical staff worked through Tuesday night at the scene. The injured were taken to hospitals in Lausanne, Bern and other cities. Three of the injured children were said to be in a critical condition last night.

News of the crash caused deep shock in Belgium, where distraught parents of the victims assembled at their children's schools yesterday to wait to be flown to Switzerland on military aircraft. "Some parents know their kids have survived, but for others there is no news," said Belgian police spokesman Marc Vranckx.

Belgium's Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupe, travelled to Switzerland with victims' relatives. He told journalists last night: "It is our duty to accompany these people who are going through so much pain."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all