REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Belgium observed a day of mourning Wednesday as investigators sought to determine the cause of a bush crash in a Swiss highway tunnel in which 28 people, most of them 12-year-old Belgian schoolchildren, were killed Tuesday night while returning home from a ski holiday.
Despite some news reports that the victims had not been wearing their seat belts, Chief Attorney Olivier Elsig told reporters that the children were wearing them “but the shock was too strong.” Swiss police confirmed that the bus hit the wall of an emergency parking bay after entering the tunnel on the A9 highway in southern Switzerland.
Elsig also confirmed that no other vehicle was involved and the road was in good condition. He said possible causes being examined were a technical problem, sudden illness and human error.
Of the 28 who died, 22 were children; teachers and the two drivers also died. Emergency rescue teams transported 24 injured passengers, most of them children, to hospitals around the country. At least three children were critically injured, a medical official said.
The bus was one of three carrying the party of schoolchildren home after their skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps resort of Val d'Anniviers.
More than 200 rescuers, including more than 100 medical personnel, worked through the night to free the trapped passengers from the wreckage. The bus had catapulted from one side of the two-lane highway before it crashed into the emergency bay, according to an early police assessment.
“The frontal impact was extremely violent. The front of the bus was heavily damaged, blocking the occupants,” a Valais police report said.
Several parents were flown to Switzerland Wednesday afternoon, and in the villages of Lommel and Heverlee in Belgium, distraught families and friends wept and comforted each other while awaiting news.
The last that many families had heard from the children were cheerful blogs, messages and photos from the ski trip in the mountains, near the Italian border.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who visited the scene, called it “a tragic day for Belgium” in a statement offering condolences to the families of those involved.