Dutch, Belgian royals to lead service for bus crash victims

21st March 2012, Comments 0 comments

Belgium's King Albert II, flanked by the Dutch crown prince, leads a memorial service Wednesday in this tiny northern town for 15 children and two adults killed in last week's horrific bus crash in Switzerland.

Scheduled to begin at 0930 GMT, the service in a community centre holding 5,000 people will be televised live. An added 4,000 mourners are expected to watch the event via two giant screens outside, as the country remembers the young victims of the devastating crash.

Of the 28 who died on March 13 when their bus slammed into a concrete wall in a Swiss alpine tunnel while returning from a skiing holiday, 17 were from the town of Lommel near the Dutch border, including six children of Dutch nationality.

Albert II and Queen Paola will be joined by Dutch heir to the throne, Prince Willem-Alexander -- whose older brother is in care after a skiing accident -- and his wife Maxima, as well as Belgian premier Elio Di Rupo and his Durch counterpart Marc Rutte as well as Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.

Members of the Swiss rescue services, the firemen, police and other aid workers who pulled the children from the wreckage and air-lifted them to hospital, will also attend the service.

The deaths of 28 of the 52 people aboard the ill-fated bus, including two drivers, has shocked Belgium.

Soldiers will carry the coffins of the 15 children, aged 11 and 12, into the hall where 2,500 seats have been reserved for family and members of their school, 'T Stekske, which means "the little matchgirl" in Dutch.

A teacher's aide and a child already buried in private will remembered by photos.

The hour-long service, including readings and hymns, will be followed by private family burials, with most of the children and their teacher to be buried alongside each other in the Lommel cemetery.

A separate memorial has been scheduled for Thursday in the town of Heverlee, home to seven children and two adults among the victims.

Three girls who survived the crash have woken from an induced coma and are no longer in danger, the Swiss hospital where they are being treated said Tuesday.

"The young patients' health has improved markedly and there is no longer any immediate threat to their lives," Lausanne university hospital said in a statement.

Swiss investigators are due to travel to Belgium soon to question the children on board the coach in attempts to assertain the cause of the tragic accident.

© 2012 AFP

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