Disaster has struck in Switzerland as a tour bus carrying a group of Belgium students returning from a ski vacation crashed into the wall of the Tunnel de Geronde shortly after 9pm on Tuesday night.
The bus had been carrying 52 people, which included mostly students around the age of 12 years old. Police described the scenario, saying that the Coach Bus had just merged onto the highway outside of Sierre, Switzerland when it bumped a curb that sent it careening head on into the concrete wall of the tunnel. Among the dead are 22 of the children and 6 of the chaperoning adults — 2 of whom passed away during the night.
Elio Di Rup, the Belgian Prime Minister reported to the scene in Sion by the following afternoon. He called it “an extremely sad day for all of Belgium.”
Both Belgium and Switzerland’s governments are going above and beyond to address this terrible tragedy. The Belgium government has been arranging travel for the parents and relatives of the victims to aid them in getting to the site of the accident. Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf even flew to the scene in Sion to represent the Swiss public in their support of the Belgian people during these terrible times. In a statement from her offices, the Swiss President assured the Belgian public that Switzerland would do everything in its power to aid and support the injured and the families of the deceased.
Christian Varone, the police chief in the canton of Valais, detailed in a news conference that rescuers came upon the crash, which could only be described as “a scene like a war.” “We have had a number of serious accidents in Valais but nothing like this, with so many young victims,” he said.
Many questions are left unanswered after this accident. There were actually two other buses in the group that arrived safety back in Belgium having no knowledge of the third bus’ crash. It appears that at this time there is no question of negligence on the part of the bus company, Arschot-based Top Tours. Belgium’s Transport Minister Melchior Wathelet released a statement that attested to the good safety record of the bus company. “The company has an excellent reputation. The drivers had arrived (in Switzerland) the night before and rested on the day before the departure. It seems that the rules regarding driving and rest time were respected.”
This is the worst accident since 1982 when 39 German tourists were killed in a railway crossing when a train crashed into their bus.
The tragic sene is contrasted by the students’ blog posts and social network status updates. As of this morning the blog was still online. Among the posts are photos depicting the smiling students enjoying the snow and excited messages describing a wonderful time at the ski resort.
Photo provided courtesy of KANTONSPOLIZEI WALLIS/POLICE OF VALAIS