A bus carrying Belgian children home from a school ski trip crashed into the wall of a tunnel in the Valais region of Switzerland, killing 28 people, 22 of them children, police said on Wednesday.
The bus, transporting 52 people, mostly school children aged about 12 from Lommel and Heverlee in Flanders, crashed late on Tuesday evening in the canton of Valais police told an early-morning news conference.
Police photographs showed the bus rammed up against the side of the tunnel, the front ripped open, broken glass and debris strewn on the road and rescue workers climbing in through side windows.
“The Prime Minister has with great horror taken note of the terrible accident that has happened in Switzerland,” Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said in a statement, adding he would travel to Switzerland on Wednesday.
“It is a sad day for all of Belgium,” he said.
The bus was heading back to Belgium from a skiing holiday camp in Val d'Anniviers, a ski resort at about 1,600 metres altitude in the Valais Alps that border France.
Police said the bus had just joined the highway towards Sitten from Siders after coming down to the valley from the resort.
After 2 kms on the road, the bus bumped into the curb and skidded into an emergency siding of the tunnel.
The front third of the bus was smashed in.
Many passengers were trapped in the wreck and had to be freed.
Some 200 police, firefighters, doctors and medics worked through the night, while 12 ambulances and eight helicopters took the injured to hospital.
The crash was one of the worst in Switzerland since 1982 when 39 German tourists were killed on a railway crossing when a train hit their bus and the worst in the Valais region since a bus crashed in a ravine in 2005, killing 12 and injuring 15.
“In Valais, we have never seen an accident as serious as this, and most probably not in Switzerland either,” police spokesman Renato Kalbermatten said.
Last month, a British teacher was killed and more than 20 people hurt in Northern France after a coach crashed while bringing schoolchildren home from a skiing trip in Italy.
Twenty-four other children aboard the Belgium-bound bus were injured and were being treated in hospital, police said.
Two drivers in the bus also were killed.
The cause of the accident was not yet known, police said.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told French radio Europe One the bus was one of three travelling together and the other two had returned to Belgium.
The Belgian ministry of defence said it would make available two aircraft so that the families of the victims could be flown to the crash site later on Wednesday.
Switzerland's mountain regions have a history of deadly crashes.
In 2001, a truck crashed in the Gotthard tunnel under the Alps, causing a blaze which killed 11 people.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ??