Swiss coach horror: Mama and papa, I miss you - last blog of crash child
Some of the schoolchildren involved in the Swiss bus crash in an Alpine tunnel which killed 28 people had left inadvertently poignant reminders of themselves in a series of holiday blogs organised by their school.
Police said the pupils had spent the last few days at a ski camp and were on their way back to the Belgian provinces of Brabant, Flanders and Limbourg.
While they were there, students at one school kept a blog that brimmed with enthusiasm.
"Today was totally the best," one girl wrote. "The adventurous walk was tiring but mega-cool. We won first prize for cleanest room. Tomorrow it's going to be colder. Byyyeeee!"
On day five of the holiday, a teacher posted a note meant to reassure parents back at home. "For now we do not see much homesickness," the teacher wrote. "But from the reactions of the children we gather that they miss you a little bit."
Local police chief Christian Varone said rescuers were greeted by what he called "a scene like a war."
"We have had a number of serious accidents in Valais but nothing like this, with so many young victims," he said.
Initial indications are that no other vehicles were involved in the crash, which occurred in a stretch of tunnel where the speed limit was 100 kilometres per hour (62 miles per hour).
"We will examine everything to find out what happened," said Valais prosecutor Olivier Elsig.
The road was closed in both directions to aid in the rescue. 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.
The city of Sierre, near Sion, the capital of Valais, is a gateway to the Val d'Anniviers tourist region and is connected to the Crans-Montana ski resort by funicular railway.
The Top Tours company, based in Aarschot, about 25 miles from Brussels, was in charge of the bus that crashed. Belgian Transport Minister Melchior Wathelet said it had a good safety record.
"The company has an excellent reputation. The drivers had arrived (in Switzerland) the night before and rested on the day before the departure. It seems that the rules regarding driving and rest time were respected," said Wathelet. He added the bus that crashed was relatively new.
Two other buses, carrying other Belgian pupils arrived safely back in Belgium, apparently without having seen the accident.
The previous worst accident in a Swiss road tunnel happened in 2001, when two trucks collided in the Gotthard tunnel, killing 11 people.
One of Europe's most tragic tunnel accidents happened in March 1999, when 39 people were killed after a truck caught fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy. The blaze burned for two days while firefighters tried to reach victims and vehicles trapped in the tunnel under Western Europe's highest peak.
Other blogs included: "This afternoon we had soup and ravioli, very delicious," one girl wrote on March 6.
On March 10, one boy wrote: "Things are super here in Saint-Luc. The skiing, the weather, the food. It's not bad at all. Tomorrow I play in the Muppet Show. ... I have seen quite a few dogs. I'm now reading the book 'Why Dogs Have Wet Noses.' Very interesting! I miss you all."
Toward week's end, the postings revealed early signs of homesickness.
"Dear mama and papa. I like it here a lot, but I miss you. Love you. Kisses." And: "Hey, mama, papa ... It is super here and the sun shines the whole day. But I do miss you! XXX."
The posts came with scores of photos posted by the youngsters from Belgium's St. Lambertus school who were staying in a hotel in Saint-Luc, high in the Swiss Alps.
The dead included teacher Frank Van Kerckhove who set up the blog with the idea of keeping parents and schoolchildren who stayed home informed about all the fun.
The week began flawlessly.
"This our first blog posting," wrote Mr Van Kerckhove.
"The bus trip was very smooth. There was little traffic. We watched the movie Avatar (and) no one became car sick on the climb" into the Alps, he added.
In the days that followed, the youngsters posted about their holiday with the youthful excitement experienced by almost every 11- or 12-year-old away on a class trip.
Outside St. Lambertus school in the town of Heverlee, parents spoke highly of Mr Van Kerckhove. Teary-eyed, some recalled his last post, dated March 11 - the eve of the return trip.
"Tomorrow will be a busy day and I do not know if I can write a blog posting," he wrote. "But on Wednesday we'll be back, all of us."
School deacon Dirk De Gendt said Mr Van Kerckhove was a much loved and able teacher.
"He'll be badly missed," he said. "The ski trips were an annual tradition."
On the school gate Wednesday, staff put up drawings made by students to honour the teacher. "I'll never forget you, Teacher Frank," one read. "You are the greatest ever!"