One of the deadliest highway accidents in Swiss history occurred when a tour bus slammed into a tunnel wall, killing 28 school children and six adults returning to Belgium from a ski vacation.
According to the Associated Press, police spokesman Jean-Marie Bornet said the bus carrying 52 people, including students of around age 12 from two different Belgian schools, hit the tunnel wall shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday night on a highway near the southern town of Sierre, Switzerland, in an area of popular ski resorts.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo called it "an extremely sad day for all of Belgium." He planned to fly to Switzerland on Wednesday, and the Belgian government was arranging planes to fly parents and relatives of the victims to the site.
Police said the students spent the last few days at a ski camp and were on their way back to the Belgian provinces of Brabant, Flanders and Limbourg.
Police spokesman Bornet said:
"The bus hit the barrier stones on the right side of the road. It then hit the tunnel wall head on in an emergency stop space. Because of the strong impact the bus was badly damaged and several passengers were trapped in the wreckage."
The bus was carrying students from two towns - Lommel, east of Antwerp, and Heverlee, near Leuven. In the tunnel, it veered, hit a curb, then rammed into a concrete wall, police said.
The front of the bus was heavily damaged, making it difficult for people to get out. Some had to be freed by rescuers.
The police chief in the canton of Valais, Christian Varone, told a news conference that rescuers were greeted by what he called "a scene like a war."
"We have had a number of serious accidents in Valais but nothing like this, with so many young victims," he said.
Initial indications are that no other vehicles were involved in the crash, which occurred in a stretch of tunnel where the speed limit was 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour).
"We will examine everything to find out what happened," said Valais prosecutor Olivier Elsig.
The highway was closed in both directions to aid in the rescue; helicopters and a dozen ambulances took victims to hospitals.
Dozens of firefighters and police, 15 doctors and three psychologists were called to the scene.
Dutch foreign ministry said 10 of the children on the bus were Dutch, but said it was not clear if any of them were among the dead.
This is the worst crash in Switzerland since 2001, when two trucks collided in the Gotthard tunnel, killing 11 people. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims.