Three years after a horrific bus crash in a Swiss tunnel, the Swiss president says the sorrow of losing 28 lives, mostly schoolchildren, hasn’t lessened with time.
"I share your grief and your emotion, just as all the Swiss people shared the pain you suffered three years ago," President Simonetta Sommaruga told family and friends of the Belgian and Dutch victims at a memorial service Friday. "The empathy and solidarity of the people of Valais – and of Switzerland – were spontaneous and strongly felt. They are just as intense today."
Sommaruga was joined by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Dutch State Secretary Sander Dekker and Jean-Michel Cina, president of the Valais Cantonal Council for the service in Sierre, near where the bus crash occurred in a highway tunnel between Sierre and Sion on March 13, 2012.
About 130 family members and friends of the victims and numerous Belgian, Dutch and Swiss officials turned out for the memorial service. Wreaths were laid by Sommaruga, Michel, Dekker and Cina.
The crash in the Sierre Tunnel was one of the worst traffic accidents in Switzerland in the past 30 years and required the help of more than 200 people for the rescue operation.
The crash involved 52 passengers from two Belgian schools who were returning from a ski holiday in the Val d’Anniviers in southern Switzerland. The bus slammed into the wall of a tunnel 15 minutes into the journey, killing 28 people and injuring 24. Twenty-two children and six adults were killed. The majority of victims were 12 years old.
Canton Valais Public Prosecutor Olivier Elsig said at the time that the children on the bus were wearing seat belts and no other vehicle was involved.
The results of an investigation into the crash, released in May 2013, found that the cause was likely driver error.
The 34-year-old driver had an unusual heart condition and was also taking antidepressants, the investigation found, although it could not be proven that either of these contributed to the accident.
An autopsy showed that the driver had not been drinking. A crash scene investigation found that the bus had been travelling within the speed limit, and there were no technical problems with the vehicle.