Was school ski-trip coach crash caused by driver changing DVD?
Survivors from accident that killed 22 children suggest driver 'wanted to switch to another disc'
The devastating Swiss coach crash which killed 28 people, including 22 children, may have been caused by the driver losing control of the vehicle while he tried to change a disc in a DVD player mounted in the dashboard, child survivors of the accident said yesterday.
One of Switzerland's worst coach crashes, which happened on Tuesday when a Belgian tour bus carrying a returning skiing party of 52 children and teachers from schools bear Brussels, hit the kerb in a tunnel near the Alpine town of Sierre and smashed into a wall.
The children, aged 10 to 12, and six adults were killed and a further 24 children were injured. Rescuers said they found "apocalyptic" scenes when they reached the site and were moved to tears as they fought to remove dead and injured children from the wreckage.
Investigators said they were still trying to establish whether human error, mechanical failure or perhaps sudden illness on the part of the driver caused the crash. However child survivors told parents and staff visiting them in Swiss hospitals yesterday that seconds before the accident the driver "wanted to change a DVD". Two Flemish-language Belgian newspapers, Het Laaste Niews and AZ, quoted parents and hospital staff as saying that several children told them one of the adults accompanying the party walked down the aisle of the bus holding either a CD or a DVD, which he handed to the driver. A teacher, Frank Kerckhove, who died in the collision, was said to have passed the DVD to the driver. He wrote on a blog that the children had watched a DVD of the Hollywood film Avatar on the coach.
AZ quoted bus drivers who confirmed that such a momentary lack of concentration while changing a disc could have led the driver to lose control of the bus and hit the kerb. They said it was a plausible explanation for the accident.
Parents of the 22 young victims were flown to Switzerland after the accident and yesterday undertook the heartbreaking task of identifying their dead children in a morgue in the town of Sion. Many families took flowers and laid them on a road bridge overlooking the tunnel.
The parents and the bodies of their children were due to be flown back to Belgium on a military aircraft for a day of national mourning today. Some of the injured children are expected to join them. However, three seriously injured victims remain in hospital in Lausanne.
It emerged yesterday that the impact of the crash was so violent that most of the seats were torn out of the floor. One 12-year-old girl, who survived but broke both her legs, told the Swiss paper L'Avenir yesterday: "It was dark, I heard a massive crash. All the seats went up in the air. I found myself trapped between two of them."
Alain Rittiner, a seasoned rescue worker who was one of the first on the scene, said what he found was "worse than anything you can imagine".
"The screams of the children were the first thing we heard," he told Swiss television.
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