Bodies of young bus crash victims return home to Belgium
REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Belgian and Dutch victims of a fatal bus crash in Switzerland that killed 22 schoolchildren and six adults returned home Friday in coffins borne by military aircraft.
Belgium largely came to a halt for a minute's silence at 11 a.m. in remembrance of the victims, young students and teachers from schools in Haverlee, near Brussels, and Lommel, close to the Dutch border. Flowers, messages and soft toys covered the walls and gates of St. Lambertus School in Haverlee and Stekske School in Lommel, where people continued to arrive and leave tokens of sympathy.
In official mourning, flags flew at half-staff in Belgium and the Netherlands, home to six of the children who died Tuesday night in the Valais region of Switzerland. Planes carrying the bodies of victims landed Friday morning at an airport in Melsbroek, Belgium.
On Thursday night, a convoy of buses brought eight of 24 injured children home to Belgium. Others remain in a hospital in Switzerland.
Since the crash, condolences for the victims have arrived from people all over the world, including messages from President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI.
Swiss police are still seeking to determine the cause of the crash. According to official reconstructions of the accident, the bus had entered a tunnel on Swiss Highway A9 near the Italian border when it clipped a curbstone. The vehicle catapulted across the two-lane highway and slammed into a concrete wall of an emergency parking bay. The front of the vehicle was completely demolished; the driver died in the crash.
No other vehicles were involved in the accident, which reportedly traumatized several of the first responders who arrived to find children still trapped inside the wreckage.
[Updated, 9:17 a.m. March 16 : During a news conference Friday by the investigative and medical teams in the case, Swiss prosecutor Olivier Elsig confirmed that the bus was not speeding at the moment of the accident and that interviews with surviving children and adults did not support a theory mentioned in news reports that the driver might have been distracted by operating a DVD player.
While awaiting final autopsy results on the driver, initial examinations showed no signs of alcohol use or a heart attack, officials said, but analyses were still ongoing. The remaining hypotheses include the possibilities of a technical fault, human error or some kind of illness. officials said.]
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: A girl, flanked by two adults, looks at flowers, drawings and candles on Friday at a primary school in Lommel, Belgium, displayed for the victims of Tuesday's bus crash in Switzerland. Credit: Yorick Jansens / AFP/Getty Images