First pictures of the young victims of school ski bus crash that killed 28 as it emerges driver “was helping teacher change DVD”
School picture shows some of the children believed to have been killed in the crashInvestigators say three possible causes: Technical problem with the bus, a driver health problem, or human error28, including 22 children, were killed after bus “veered, then rammed into a concrete wall in the tunnel”Children”s poignant blog posts revealed how they were having a “super” time and some were homesick
Girl, 12, first survivor to speak of the horror talks of how “everything went dark”Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said: “It is a black day for all of Belgium”
These are the first photographs to emerge of some of the children killed in the devastating Swiss tunnel bus crash – as it was revealed the driver could have been helping a teacher to change a DVD moments before the accident.
Young survivors of the horrific smash told their parents the driver was seen trying to insert the disc as they drove along the A9 motorway in Switzerland. The fear is that the driver – one of two who died – was distracted and lost control.
Renato Kalbermatten, spokesman for the Swiss police, confirmed the theory was being examined, although CCTV footage ‘did not make the situation very clear”.
Portraits of the smiling Stekske school children were placed on display at Lommel Town Hall as hundreds of Belgians arrived to pay tribute to the 22 youngsters and six adults who lost their lives.
Victims: These children, from the Stekske school in Belgium, were all killed in the Swiss bus crash that claimed the lives of 22 children and six adults
Tragic: The Stekske pupils were returning from a skiing holiday when the bus they were travelling on careered into the wall of a tunnel
Lost lives: The majority of the children were aged just 12 years old. Scores of tributes have been left outside the Stekske school
The crash, in which 28 people were also seriously injured, happened shortly after the party of 52 schoolchildren and staff from Belgium and Holland set off for home following a holiday in the Alpine ski resort ofVal d”Annivers.
The coach entered the two-mile-long Sierre tunnel on the A9 motorway at around 9.15pm on Tuesday and clipped the kerb in the outside lane, before careering into a concrete wall.
Mr Rittemer said his team of paramedics arrived within 20 minutes, and had to break their way in through windows at the back.
He said: “You couldimagine that the children whom we found were our own. This was a visionwhich we were not used to seeing, and I”ve been doing this job for 20 years. Our main aim was to get to the children, most of whom could not move because they were trapped in the piles of scrap metal.
“That said, we did not need to speak. We only needed to look in their eyes and hold their hands.”
He added: “We reached the last casualty two hours after our arrival on the scene 20 minutes after the accident. The last dead body, that of the second driver, was finally removed at 4.15am”.
Parents of the victims gathered at the two primary schools inBelgium yesterday before boarding a military aircraft. They did not know whether theirchildren were dead oralive. “There”s no news, simply no news,” said one red-eyedfather.
A 12-year-old girl aboard the bus whoescaped with serious injuries was the first survivor to describe what happened. She said: “I felt a hard jolt. Then everything went dark. “The seats worked loose and were flung around the bus. I was hurled forward and ended up pinned between two of the seats.” The girl broke both of her legs and an arm.
Victims: A mourner outside St Lambertus school pictured holding up a photo of pupils that could have been on the trip
Girls light candle tributes during a vigil for the victims of a tourist bus crash in a tunnel of the motorway A9, in Sierre, western Switzerland
Smashed: The wreckage of the bus which crashed into an underpass in Sierre, in the Swiss canton of Valais, killing 28, including 22 children
TUNNEL TO BLAME FOR CRASH DEATH TOLL, SAYS EXPERT
A badly designed tunnel was behind the high death toll, a bus safety expert has claimed.
InternationalBus Tourism Association”s Johannes Huebner said the coach had probably been travelling at no more than 50kmh when it crashed.
Buthe claimed that if there had been a crash barrier at the side of the tunnel, the impact of the smash would have been much less catastrophic.
A motorist who drove into the tunnel just after the crash has also described the terrifying scene. She told the Mirror: “I saw the front seats of the bus all smashed against each other and there was blood everywhere. I saw children who were still alive waving to be saved.
“I saw smoke coming from the bus. There was no one, no police or firefighters. I realised I couldn”t do anything alone and I called for assistance. It was horrific. It was likea horror movie.
“I can still see all those children”s faces staring at me. I don”t even know is some were alive or dead. It was horrible.”
Belgium”s King Albert today said his thoughts “go out to the victims and their families”. Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said: “It is a black day for all of Belgium”.
A senior officer who was among 200 emergency workers at the scene of the accident said: “The impact was terrifying.” Another told Belgium”s Le Soir newspaper:
“The coach was travelling at very high speed. It was going considerably faster than the speed limit on a stretch of road where the speed is limited to 100kmh.”
Grieving: Visitors pictured in tears outside Stekske primary school in Lommel (left) as notes are left outside St Lambertus school (right)
Heart wrenching: Teachers at St Lambertus attach drawings of pupils at the school gate on Wednesday morning
“IT IS VERY STRESSFUL TO SEE ALL THESE CRUSHED LIMBS”
Rescuers who raced to the scene have described the “eerie” aftermath of the crash.
AlainRittemer said: “It exceeds anything imaginable. It is like nothing I have experienced in 20 years with the emergency services.”
And ClaudePeter said: “You could not even hear children”s cries. In these situations the children are mute, they are in so much shock. Above all it was the injuries that were most graphic.
“Withinthe region we have prepared a lot for rescue situations because we havefaced a lot of avalanches in the past so our rescuers and doctors are particularly well trained.
“I have a 12-year-old son and to see all these injured children of the same age was really shocking.”
Hesaid those uninjured in the crash had already climbed out of the coach by the time he arrived, and that those trapped were being cut-free by firefighters.
The headof the Val d’Anniviers rescue service added: “Their legs were a mess. It is very stressful to see all these crushed limbs following the impact.”
And he revealed many of the victims were so badly injured that they could not be identified without DNA tests being taken.
Eyewitnessesat the scene added that children”s clothes and suitcases were piled up outside the vehicles, as shreds of turquoise fabric from the coach”s curtains littered the road.
But CCTV film of the crash appeared to suggest that the coach might not have been travelling above the 62mph limit inside the two mile tunnel, which is part of the A9 motorway.
And despite early reports blaming thedriver for breaking the 63mph speed limit, Swiss police said they were looking at other factors.
Prosecutor Olivier Elsig said: ‘The coach was not going too fast. Three hypotheses are being examined – firstly, a technical problem; secondly, the driver’s health; and thirdly, human error.’ The coach was fitted with seatbelts, but it was unclear if the passengers were wearing them.
The Swiss authorities have launched an inquiry into the accident, which happened in the Sierre Tunnel, in the canton of Valais.
The coach hit the kerb, crossed an emergency stopping area, and then hit the concrete wall backed by Alpinerock. Two drivers on board both died.
Dutch and Belgian children aged between 11 and 12 made up the majority of the victims, who had all been enjoying a skiing break in the Swiss resort of Anniviers.
When the coach was pictured a few hours before the 9pm (8pm GMT) accident, none of the passengers appeared to have been wearing seat belts.
However, the CCTV film is said to show passengers in fact wearing their belts.
Victims were from St Lambert School, in the north eastern Belgian town of Heverlee, and from the Stekske School in Lommel, on the Belgian border close to the Dutch city of Eindehoven.
The first victims named were teachers Raymond Theunis, 54, and Veerle Vanheukelom, 38, both of whom were from Lommel.
Rescuers said the fatalities would have been even worse if the coach had caught fire.
Suitcases were flung across the carriageway, with children”s clothes falling out of them, said one rescuer.
Christian Varone, head of police in the Valais region, described the aftermath as “being like a warzone”. MrVarone added: “We have had a number of serious accidents in Valais but nothing like this, with so many young victims.”
Those who worked for around eight hours at the scene included 15 doctors, 30 policemen, 60 firefighters, 100 ambulance workers and three psychologists. Twelve ambulances and eight helicopters were also involved. Mr Elsig, the prosecutor, said no other vehicles were involved in the accident.
“The coach is a modern, up-to-date one, and fitted with seatbelts throughout,” said Mr Elsig. Helicopters were used to fly many of the worst injured to hospitals in the Swiss cities of Lausanne and Berne. The Sierre Tunnel is just a decade old, and is wide and well lit, said the prosecutor. Weather conditions were good at the time of the accident, he added.
Amongthe dead were seven Dutch children because the schools are close to theborder. Parents had been keeping in touch with their children via a school blog. One final posting read: ‘Dearest mum and dad, the food is very tasty… The skiing is good. But I miss you so much…’
Heartbreaking: A young girl pays tribute to the victims of the bus crash outside St Lambertus school
Tribute: Flowers have been left in front of the entrance to the tunnel where the accident occurred
The coach, which had been hired for the trip by a Christian trade union, belonged to Toptours, a company from the town of Aerschot with an “excellent reputation”, according to Belgian transport minister Melchior Wathelet.
Children on the coach had set up a blog about their ski holiday in Italy – posting messages about their trip, saying they had been “having a great time skiing” and that they were “looking forward to getting home.”
Toptours, which runs a fleet of 14 coaches, specialises in winter sports, and regularly transports passengers from Belgium to Austrian and Italian resorts. Didier Reynders, the Belgian foreign minister, said victims were being identified, while next-of-kin were being flown to Switzerland.
“It is incomprehensible,” said Mr Reynders. “There were three buses yet only one hit the wall, apparently without contact with any other vehicle.” Jan Luykx, the Belgian ambassador to Switzerland, said : “This tragedy will devastate the whole of Belgium. All of the victims came from two villages.
“The scale of the accident is impossible to digest. We are currently focusing on the practical aspectsof dealing with this tragedy.”
PUPILS” BLOGS ARE TRAGIC REMINDER
Someof the victims of the Swiss bus crash left inadvertently poignant reminders of themselves in a series of holiday blogs organised by their school.
“This afternoon we had soup and ravioli, very delicious,” one girl wrote on March 6.”Today was totally the best. The adventurous walk was tiring, but mega-cool,” another girl wrote. “We won first prize for cleanest room. Tomorrow it”s going to be colder.