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Tunnel bus crash kills 22 children on school ski trip

A BUS carrying 12-year-old students returning from a ski holiday crashed into a wall in a Swiss tunnel, killing 22 children and six adults.

Another 24 students were hospitalised with injuries, police spokesman Jean-Marie Bornet said.

The bus carrying 52 people, including children from two different Belgian schools, crashed around 9pm last night in a tunnel at Sierre, Switzerland, near popular ski areas in the Swiss Alps.

Police said the bus veered and hit a curb, then rammed into a concrete wall in the tunnel.

"The bus hit the barrier stones on the right side of the road. It then hit the tunnel wall front-on in an emergency stop space," police said in a statement.

"Because of the strong impact the bus was badly damaged and several passengers were trapped in the wreckage."

Several had to be freed by rescuers.

The front of the bus was heavily damaged and blocked people from getting out. The cause of the crash has not been determined.

The highway was closed in both directions to aid in the rescue.

Some eight helicopters and a dozen ambulances took victims to hospitals.

Dozens of firefighters and police, 15 doctors and three psychologists were called to the scene.

A government spokesman said a crisis centre had been set up and an emergency number provided for families.

Police said the victims were all thought to be Belgians living in Flanders.

Belgian media reported that the children were from two towns, Lommel, east of Antwerp, and Heverlee, near Leuven.

The cantonal police commander called in the Belgian ambassador, Jan Luykx, who rushed to the scene of carnage.

Didier Reynders, the Belgian foreign minister, said authorities were still busy identifying all the victims.

"It is incomprehensible. There were three buses and only one was in an accident without any contact with another vehicle," he was quoted as saying on La Capitale's website. "It hit a wall in a tunnel."

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said this is "an extremely sad day for all of Belgium."

Di Rupo is flying together with the families of the victims to Switzerland on Wednesday, the government said.