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Africa & World
Mar 15 2012 1:18PM
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Grieving parents laid flowers Thursday at the site of a coach crash in the Swiss Alps which killed 28 people as investigators tried to work out why the driver ploughed into a tunnel wall.

After visiting the morgue to identify the bodies of the 22 children and six adults, relatives were driven from their hotel to the Sierre tunnel where teams were poring over debris in a bid to resolve the mystery behind the tragedy.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said the relatives could be seen clutching bouquets and messages as they got on their coach. A young girl was among the party although it was not immediately clear whether she was a sister of one of the victims or a crash survivor.

After police said they did not believe the driver of the coach had been speeding, Swiss authorities acknowledged there would be a rethink about safety designs in the tunnel which stretches some 2.5 kilometres.

Forty-six children and four teachers from two Belgian schools were returning home from a skiing holiday late Tuesday when their coach slammed into a concrete wall in the motorway tunnel in southern Switzerland.

Twenty-one of the dead were from Belgium while the other seven fatalities were from the Netherlands.

Two C-130 Hercules transport planes belonging to the Belgian army were on standby to bring back the bodies of the dead, Defence Minister Pieter De Crem announced late Wednesday on his return from a visit to the crash site.

As the parents arrived at the morgue, a police spokesman confirmed to AFP that some of the bodies would be repatriated to Belgium later in the day.

"The families are there to identify the bodies and to give information to help in the formal identification of those who cannot be identified" visually, the spokesman told AFP.

The body of the driver however was expected to remain as "health analyses have to be carried out" to check if he was suffering from an illness that could have caused the accident.

It is believed that the coach clipped a kerb and then slammed into the wall of a rectangular emergency stop area.

The Zurich daily Tages-Anzeiger said "the collision has occurred because of that wall", noting that the design was common throughout the country. The 100 kilometre (60-mile) per hour speed limit was also questioned by the press.

"Will the speed limit be lowered for heavy vehicles or will the design of the emergency stop areas be modified?" asked the Geneva-based Le Temps.

A spokesman for the federal roads service did not rule out that the accident would lead to a rethink about the right-angle shape of the emergency stop areas in tunnels.

"For the moment, the emergency stop areas have this shape as called for by regulations," said Antonello Laveglia.

"It's clear that with what has happened, it's not excluded that something will be re-discussed or changed," he said. "The accident is an occasion to think further on this topic."

The coach had only just reached the motorway after a short descent along winding roads from the mountain ski resort, close to the Italian border.

Marianne Van Malderen, a Belgian motorist who arrived at the scene shortly after the crash, described children pinned under their seats or thrown towards the front of the coach.

"We did what we could to get out those who were unhurt," but "it wasn't possible to climb into the coach because its windows were so high up", she said.

While Switzerland pondered how the tragedy had occurred, the overwhelming emotion in Belgium was grief.

"Belgium Weeps for its Children," read the headline in the French-language newspaper la Derniere Heure as people called into morning radio shows to express their sorrow over the accident. "State of Shock," said the newspaper Le Soir in a dark front page with a picture of the tunnel.

Recalling that the children had posted cheerful messages on a blog about their ski trip in the Alps, Le Soir's editorial said: "We have all awaited such messages anxiously at one time after seeing our children board a bus or a train for their beautiful trip."

Newspapers in the Flemish region of Belgium, home to the two Catholic schools that the 11- and 12-year-old children attended, dedicated dozens of pages to the tragedy.

The daily De Morgen said: "There is no satisfactory answer to this question: why my child?" Belgium's Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said he could find no words of comfort for devastated relatives.

"When we lose an adult it's dramatic, when we lose a child there are no words... because the pain is so great that there is nothing to relieve the pain," Di Rupo told a press conference in Sion late Wednesday.  -AFP

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