Belgian day of national mourning for coach crash dead

Belgium is holding a day of national mourning to remember the 28 victims of the Switzerland coach crash.

The country came to a standstill for a minute's silence at 11:00 (10:00 GMT) and flags are being flown at half mast. After the minute's silence, church bells rang out.

The bodies of those killed have now been brought back to Belgium.

A convoy of hearses left Melsbroek military airport, carrying the white coffins.

Twenty-two of those killed when the coach struck the wall of a tunnel on the way back from a school skiing trip were children.

Eight of the injured children were flown home on Thursday and reports say that 12 more children were flown back to Belgium on Friday. All the adults on board the coach died.

It has emerged that one of the victims was an 11-year-old British boy who had been a pupil at St Lambertus School in Heverlee.

Sebastian Bowles's parents, Edward and Ann, flew to Brussels on Thursday night after identifying their son's body in Switzerland, a school spokesman confirmed.


The four most seriously injured children are being treated at hospitals in Lausanne and Bern.

Family members of the dead children who had travelled to Switzerland visited the crash site on Thursday, some laying flowers in the tunnel.

Most of the victims of Tuesday night's crash were around 12 years old. In addition to the British boy, six of the dead children had Dutch nationality; the others were Belgian.

Giving the results of an autopsy of the driver, Swiss prosecutor Olivier Elsig said that there were no traces of alcohol in the blood.

He added that there was nothing to support the theory that the driver had been taken ill, AFP reported.

The authorities have also refused to comment on suggestions in Swiss and Belgian media that the coach driver may have been changing a DVD at the time of the crash.

Swiss police spokesman Renato Kalbermatten said CCTV from the tunnel did not confirm the disc theory, which he described as "pure speculation at this stage".

Police earlier said that they did not believe the coach was speeding at the time of the crash.

The group had spent a week skiing in Val d'Anniviers in the Swiss Alps and were travelling home on one of three buses hired by a Christian group. The other two coaches reached Belgium safely.

Those on board the bus that crashed were from the Stekske primary school in Lommel, near the Dutch border, and from St Lambertus in Heverlee, near Leuven (Louvain).

Pope's message

The mayor of Lommel announced that a memorial ceremony would be held in the town next week.

Peter Vanvelthoven said that the Belgian royal family and the Queen of the Netherlands would attend the event, on Wednesday.

It would be an interfaith ceremony, at the parents' request, he added, "in which every one of those families can say goodbye in a dignified and respectful manner".

Only seven of the 22 children from Lommel survived the crash; both adults travelling with the group were killed.

A message of condolence from Pope Benedict XVI was read out at a service at St Joseph's Catholic church in Lommel on Thursday evening.

A Vatican statement said the Pope was praying for the bereaved families and expressed his deepest sympathy for the injured and the emergency workers. He had conferred a special apostolic blessing on all affected by the tragedy.

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