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Agony for parents after Swiss bus crash

14 March 2012, 17:04

Hervelee - Faces drawn and carrying overnight bags, parents arrived at dawn at a Belgian primary school to find out if their children were among the 28 victims of Europe's deadliest crash in a decade.

"They're sitting there, inside, without knowing," said parish priest Dirk De Gendt as the town of Heverlee tried to absorb the full horror of the overnight tragedy in the Swiss Alps.

"Parents who know their child is alive are relieved, but for the others it's terrible," he added.

After being informed of the crash by phone, parents began arriving at the school at 07:00 some returning home to fetch their things before heading to a military airport where an aircraft will fly them to Switzerland later in the day.

The local mayor Louis Tobback was on hand to help as police cordoned off access to the press at the red-brick Sint-Lambertus primary school.

A total 24 school-children, aged 11 and 12, along with their teacher and a teaching assistant from this tiny Catholic school in the Leuven suburbs, were aboard the coach when it swerved and smashed at high speed into a concrete wall in a tunnel.

Dynamic man

Both the adults were killed, said De Gendt, who rushed to the school in the early hours to help both the relatives and the pupils.

The teacher was "a very dynamic" man, according to a member of the school board who said "a great sorrow" hung over the establishment.

Of the 24 Sint-Lambertus pupils, "16 suffered different injuries, some broken arms or legs, but they are alive", said De Gendt.

But the school had "no news" of the remaining eight, added the priest, who knew the children well as he had been preparing them to take communion.

Twenty-eight people were killed in the crash, six adults, including the two drivers, and 22 children.

A statement on Wednesday from the Dutch foreign ministry said nine Dutch children were in the coach crash.

Eight of the children lived in Belgium while the ninth, was based in the Netherlands near the border with Belgium, said ministry spokesperson Aad Meijer.

Psychologists on hand

The skiing holiday was organised by the Flemish Catholic school system.

A member of the school board is to accompany the relatives to Switzerland and psychologists were on hand in the building.

Belgian Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard met the parents in the morning and said they had "felt something that resembled the cry of Christ on the cross 'My God, why did you abandon me?'"

"This is a tragic day for all of Belgium," said Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who is also flying to Switzerland but will first join King Albert II to meet the relatives at a military airport.

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