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Swiss distraught over school coach tragedy

Published on 15/03/2012

Residents of the small Swiss town of Sion near the scene of the horrific coach crash that killed 28 people, mostly children, were distraught Thursday at the loss of so many young lives.

“We all wonder how this could happen in such a recent and well-lit tunnel,” said Michel Andrey, a high school teacher in the town of 30,000.

“When I tell my students, they are horrified,” said Andrey describing Tuesday night’s accident in an Alpine tunnel as especially “appalling” due to the young age of the Belgian and Dutch victims.

Twenty-two children from two Belgian schools and six adults perished when the coach taking them home from a skiing holiday slammed into a concrete motorway tunnel wall 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Sion.

Another 24 were injured.

“These are 12-year-olds. They come from schools that organise trips here regularly,” Andrey said.

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

Christine Walker, a resident of the southern Swiss city, said she heard helicopters in the night, noting that accidents were not uncommon in the Alpine region.

“But when I saw it on television, I cried like a child even though I don’t know these people,” she said, adding it was just “indescribable.”

Dozens of local residents have laid flowers and toys and lit candles at the bridge overlooking the exit of the tunnel.

“I am here to lend solidarity to the victims’ families, for the other children who were on the trip, for the injured and to give support to all the rescuers who worked on this disaster,” said Elodie, a young woman who arrived clutching flowers.

About 100 people clad in white marched towards a church in nearby Sierre, where the accident occurred, and went to pray.

The local parish vicar Bernard Broccard spoke of the profound shock of residents.

“This is an impossible situation,” he said.

A mass was planned on Thursday evening in Sion.