The driver of a bus that crashed in Switzerland, killing 22 schoolchildren and six adults, may have been trying to insert a disc on the onboard entertainment system shortly before the accident, Swiss and Belgian papers have reported.
The Dutch-language Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws said children who were aboard the bus reported seeing the driver handling a DVD that a teacher had given to him to play and the paper speculated that a "moment of distraction" may have caused the bus to hit a curb.
The impact with the curb caused the vehicle to veer into a "stop lane" and slam head-on into a wall where the lane ended.
The bus was carrying 52 people. Swiss police say 21 Belgians and seven Dutch were killed inside the Tunnel de Geronde. Twenty-four children were hurt in the crash, some seriously. The impact was so violent that some children were thrown from windows, despite wearing seatbelts.
Those on board were an hour into a trip home from a school-organized ski trip at the Swiss resort of Val d'Anniviers when the crash occurred, shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Authorities said two drivers on the bus were killed instantly, but they have not yet determined which of the two men was behind the wheel. They said there is no evidence the bus was travelling over the speed limit.
Swiss daily newspaper Aargauer Zeitung reported similar claims speculating on driver error, but Swiss police have refused to comment.
Some of the victims were taken to a morgue in the Swiss town of Sion on Thursday so that they could be identified by their families ahead of their repatriation.
"Where possible the bodies will be shown to the families," police spokesman Jean-Marie Bornet told The Associated Press. "In some cases this is not possible because the bodies are too badly injured," he said.
Belgian day of mourning on Friday
Plans were being made to begin repatriating the bodies with military planes as early as Thursday evening, and government officials announced that Friday would be a national day of mourning in Belgium. Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said one minute of silence will be observed across the country at 11 a.m.
Di Rupo was one of dozens of people who signed a condolence book at the country's parliament in Brussels on Thursday to remember those who lost their lives.
"The bodies have been taken from Lausanne to Sion, where the identification is being done family by family, and you can imagine there are moments of intense pain and at times, these can be long," Di Rupo said earlier in the day.
In the town of Sierre, where the crash occurred, locals expressed their shock at the tragedy and the fact that most of the victims were 12-year-old children.
"I am very sad because I have children and today I awoke with them and I think very strongly about these people because it's really very hard," said Genevieve Romailler, a pharmacist.
"It's very hard to come to terms with this kind of situation and even if we didn't know these young victims we are really taking this to heart and we are really moved by this tragedy," said barman Franck Bartolucci.
Flowers and cards left at school
Some students on the bus were from the Belgian town of Heverlee, east of Brussels, and attended St. Lambertus School. Classmates and their parents gathered there on Thursday to leave cards and flowers and talk about the accident.
"You lose one person in your family, but the whole family, the whole society is affected. And here it is 28, it is just terrible," Izabela Filipek, a mother of a five-year-old at the school, told the U.K.'s Telegraph in an online video.
"Yesterday, they talked about the death of their teacher and afterwards they started playing soccer, because a child can go from very happy emotions to a very sad emotion. It is easier for them than for us I think," school pastor Dirk De Gendt told the Telegraph.
"I just saw two police officers with tears in their eyes, so I guess for everybody it is a hard moment right now," said Piet Veulemans, a teenage student at St. Lambertus.
Another makeshift memorial site was set up outside 't Stekske, an elementary school that also sent students on the skiing trip from Lommel-Kolonie, Belgium, near the border with the Netherlands.
A Catholic chapel in Sierre was opened to allow the public to pay their respects to the victims, and a memorial mass was planned for Thursday evening at the town's Holy Cross Church.