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The dream of many children ended tragically on Tuesday when the bus bringing them home from their “snow classes” in the Alps crashed in a tunnel. In Lommel-Kolonie Belgium, the children who attend ‘t Stekske elementary had dreamt of the trip to Switzerland for years.
Vicki Emmers, a former student, told the New York Times that “the kids save up the money all by themselves for their last year, selling things, running bingo sessions and so on. It’s a dream from when you’re just 5 years old to make this trip.” But this year’s rite of passage from childhood to the teenage years ended in a nightmare.
On Tuesday, only 15-20 km from the ski resort the bus crashed into a wall in the Tunnel de Geronde near Sierre. No other vehicles were involved. It is possible the bus clipped a curb and veered into the wall. As reported by the Associated Press the particular area of the tunnel had a cut-out for disabled vehicles. This part of the wall was at a right angle to the tunnel road. It is now being investigated whether the design of the tunnel contributed to the accident.
When emergency services arrived, even the seasoned rescuers were disturbed by what the Alain Rittiner, the lead of the ambulances, described to the Chicago Tribune as a ‘scene of horror’. He also told them access to the bus was difficult and it was hard to remove the victims. Also according to the Chicago Tribune, police photos showed the bus with the front ripped open and rescue workers climbing in through the side windows. Twelve ambulances and eight helicopters took the victims to area hospitals.
The death toll totaled 22 children (all around 12 years of age) and six adults. The bodies of these victims were returned to Belgium on Friday. Two military airplanes carried the 22 white caskets and six brown wooden ones back home. A third plane carried their belongings.
Many of the 24 injured, but surviving children have also returned home. Four have injuries so severe that they cannot travel. As reported by the Associated Press, one of these children will likely return home by the end of the weekend. The other three remain in serious condition. They were put into artificially induced comas because of the seriousness of their injuries. Two remain unconscious while the other has recently regained consciousness.
Belgium held a national day of mourning on Friday for the 28 victims. Church bells rang across the country and flags were lowered to half-mast. As reported by the Associated Press, trains and subways stopped in their tracks and factory workers laid down their tools. Broadcasters even rescheduled their programming, postponing the live finale of a popular singing contest.
The cause of the crash is still unknown. At this time drunk driving, speeding and distracted driving have all been ruled out. Prosecutors do not believe that the driver suffered a heart attack. And it is accepted that the driver was well rested.
Image Courtesey of HET BELANG van Lommel