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Twelve die after coach accident in Valais

A fireman stands near the bodies of two of the victims Keystone

Twelve people have died and 15 others were injured after a Swiss coach plunged into a ravine in southern Switzerland.

This content was published on April 17, 2005 - 21:41

The accident happened on Sunday morning between the villages of Orsières and Liddes on the access road to the Great St Bernard Pass, which leads from Switzerland to Italy.

It is the worst coach accident in Switzerland since 1982.

Six women, five men and a 15-year-old boy died in the crash, police in canton Valais said at a news conference on Sunday afternoon in Orsières.

Four of the injured are in a serious condition.

The coach apparently rolled over several times down a slope of 60 metres before plunging into the ravine. Fourteen passengers were ejected from the coach before it landed near the bed of the Dranse river.

At the time of the accident the road was wet but there was no snow on it.

The bodies of the victims have been taken to the cantonal capital, Sion, for official identification.

One of the two drivers died in the crash, the cause of which remains unknown.

Dominique Lovey, who is leading investigations into the accident, said he hoped to speak to survivors as early as Monday in an effort to determine exactly how the crash happened.

Out of control

Twenty-seven people of all ages were on the coach when it went out of control shortly before 10am, police said in a statement.

They added that the injured were taken to hospitals in Martigny and Sion.

Some of the passengers were trapped in the coach, which was about 150 metres below the road and could not immediately be reached by rescuers, officials said.

Up to 200 rescue workers - including mountain guides, doctors and border guards - were hampered by bad weather and the area’s mountainous topography.

Rescuers had to lower themselves by rope to reach the vehicle, which is owned by the Bernese travel company Marti of Kallnach.

The coach was on its way to Savona in Italy to drop passengers off for a holiday cruise.

The company’s director, Heinrich Marti, said the coach had left Bern on Sunday morning with 24 passengers, two drivers and a hostess.

Crisis centre

A statement on Marti's website said that the company's crisis centre was concentrating efforts on offering passengers the best possible medical and psychological help.

"Our joint crisis management group is in close contact with the relevant authorities and doctors on the spot," the statement added.

Marti said that the coach only went into service last July and that it had barely clocked up 50,000 kilometres.

In a reaction to the accident, Swiss President Samuel Schmid expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

Schmid, who is currently on an official visit to Japan, also thanked all those who took part in rescue efforts.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Marti company has set up a telephone hotline: 044 655 12 12.
The Valais police telephone hotline number is 0800 112 117.

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In brief

The coach belonging to the Ernst Marti travel firm was on its way from Kallnach in canton Bern to Savona in Italy.

It picked up passengers in the Bern area, Lausanne and Martigny.

There were 24 passengers, two drivers and a hostess on board.

The travel company and Valais police have set up telephone hotlines.

It is the worst coach accident in Switzerland since 1982 when a German vehicle collided with a train in Pfäffikon, canton Zurich, causing the deaths of 39 people.

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