Lifestyle & Belief

Belgian town of Lommel holds memorial service for victims of deadly bus crash


Police officers carry the coffin of one of the 28 victims of Sierre's coach crash to load it into a Belgian military cargo aircraft at Sion airport on March 16, 2012 in Switzerland. The accident occurred when a school bus carrying 11 -12 year old children back to Belgium from a skiing holiday, crashed into a tunnel wall, killing 28 of the 52 passengers. Belgium is holding a day of national mourning today to remember the victims of the crash.


Olivier Maire-Pool

Thousands attended a memorial service in the Belgian town of Lommel on Wednesday to pay tribute to the victims of last week's deadly bus crash in a Swiss tunnel, BBC News reported. The accident claimed 28 lives.

Belgian King Albert II and Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and their wives, as well as Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte, joined over 5,000 people to remember 15 children and two staff from a single Belgian school who were killed on their way back from a skiing holiday, Reuters reported.

More from GlobalPost: PHOTOS: Belgium grieves after bus crash kills 28, including schoolchildren

The service was televised on screens outside of Lommel's community center, where the ceremony was held, in anticipation of the overwhelming number of mourners expected to attend, BBC reported.  

Soldiers first carried in a coffin containing the body of Raymond Theunis, the students' teacher, according to Reuters. Other pallbearers then brought in white coffins which carried the 11- and 12-year-old victims, followed in procession by their families.

The students' bus, which carried 52 passengers, slammed into a tunnel wall, injuring 24 children in addition to the dead, the Associated Press reported. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, according to the AP. 

Peter Vanvelthoven, the mayor of Lommel, gave a eulogy.

"Is there something worse than parents who lose what they love most?" Vanvelthoven said, according to the AP. 

Family members of the dead gave speeches reminiscing about their lost loved ones, remembering a daughter's favorite meal and a son's newly decorated bedroom, AP reported. 

"The snow classes were a true feast. Happy, smiling kids. Excellent weather, great snow," said ski monitor supervisor Marina Claes said of the days preceding the tragedy, according to the AP. She spoke of snow barbecues, surprise parties, and on the last day "everyone got their much desired ski diploma." 

The service in Lommel was followed by private family burials, BBC reported. Most of the children and their teacher will be buried alongside each other in the town's cemetery, according to BBC. 

More from GlobalPost: Bodies returned to Belgium after bus crash (VIDEO)

Three girls who survived the crash have awoken from their induced comas, the Swiss hospital where they are being treated said Tuesday, Expatica reported.

"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.

A separate memorial has been scheduled for Thursday in the town of Heverlee, home to seven children and two adults who also died in the accident, Expatica reported. 

Swiss investigators will travel to Belgium soon to question the surviving children who were on board the coach, in an attempt to understand the cause of the fatal accident.