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Driver in Swiss bus horror may have been loading DVD player before crash

Investigators are looking into the possibility that the driver of the coach which crashed into a tunnel wall killing 22 children and six adults was trying to put on a DVD seconds before impact.

Young survivors of the horrific accident have told their parents that he was seen trying to insert the disc as they drove along the A9 motorway in Switzerland.

The fear is that the driver was distracted and lost control.

The Belgian newspaper 'Het Laatste Nieuws' reported the claim yesterday.

It is known that the children watched the film 'Avatar' on their outward journey to the Swiss ski resort of Val d'Anniviers.

Renato Kalbermatten, spokesman for the Swiss police, confirmed the theory was being examined, although CCTV footage "did not make the situation very clear".

Investigation

Yves Mannaerts, director of the Belgian Coach Operators' Federation, said nothing would be ruled out of his organisation's investigation.

It is still not known which driver of the two aboard was at the wheel at the time of the accident. Both were experienced, the elder Paul van de Velde (52) had worked with the family-owned Top Tours firm for seven years while the younger, Geert Michiels (35), was an experienced public bus driver in his second season with the firm.

Photographs of the 15 children, all aged 11 and 12, and two teachers from the Stetske junior school in Lommel were put up in the city hall.

The images conveyed the bright, innocent faces that had their lives brutally cut short.

Mourners filed solemnly into the hall to sign a register of condolences and write messages. After dark, thousands attended a vigil outside the Catholic church next to the school.

The Swiss authorities have a policy of not releasing the names of the dead, while the Belgian authorities have yet to do so.

But local reports, backed up by friends and colleagues, named the six adults who died as Frank van Kerckhove (40), a teacher at St Lambertus, Monique van Bocxlaer (70), a teaching assistant at the school, Raymond Theunis (54) and Veerle vanheukelom (38) from Stekske school, and drivers Geert Michiels and Paul van de Velde.

The grandfather of a 12-year-old boy on the coach confirmed that he had died.

Jos Daman told the Flemish paper 'Het Laatste Nieuws' that his grandson Bavo Daman had suffered fatal injuries in the crash.

"This is obviously totally devastating for all of us," he said.

Bavo had been sitting on the back seat alongside his best friend Timon Waeterloos (12), who survived the accident but suffered two broken legs.

Timon's mother Gitte Waeterloos said: "I haven't a clue how we are going to break the news to him. They were so close, like brothers really.

"It will break his heart to know that Bavo has died."

Last night three children -- a girl and two boys -- remained in comas.

Eight of the 24 children injured were expected to be discharged from hospital by the weekend.

Police said of the 28 dead, 19 had been formally identified by their parents and the remaining nine identifications were "in progress".

Earlier the head of the coach company Top Tours, Tom Cooremans, rejected the DVD theory.

He said the design of the vehicle -- an Altano model of the Vanhool make -- does not allow passengers to see the drive as the passenger seats are raised above the cab. "This is just devastating," Mr Cooremans said.

Many of the bodies were due to be repatriated to Belgium today, when the country will hold a day of national mourning. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent