Swiss tunnel crash leaves 28 dead Mar 2012
Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk
Swiss authorities have promised a full and transparent investigation into one of Europe's deadliest ever tunnel crashes.
A total of 28 people, mostly young children returning to Belgium and Holland from a school skiing trip, are confirmed dead, with the remaining 24 passengers receiving treatment in hospital for injuries.
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                Video footage of the rescue effort (Credit: BBC News)

The accident happened late on Tuesday night when the bus they were travelling in hit a side wall inside the 2.46km-long Sierre motorway tunnel, head on.
The tunnel is part of the A9 motorway bypass linking east and west Sierre in the Swiss canton of Valais, south of Berne and east of Lausanne and Geneva.
No other vehicle was involved in the accident, which happened at night when traffic was reported to be very light. Weather conditions were reportedly good.
Initial inquiries suggest that the bus veered out of control after hitting a kerb inside the tunnel, causing it to crash into a side wall head on.
Regional police spokesman Renato Kalbermatten told Swiss television: "Our first findings show that the bus entered the tunnel and touched the kerb. And then the bus was hurled against an emergency bay and was severely damaged."
The twin-running Sierre tunnel, which features two lanes in each direction and emergency laybys at 600m intervals, is relatively new, having opened in 1999. The speed limit is 100 km/h (62 mph).
The wreckage of the bus

The wreckage of the bus (Photo credit: EPA)

The tunnel is in fact four interlinked tunnels: the 1,070m Alusuisse, the 620m Contoured, the 180m Crête Plane and the 580m Ancien Sierre. Its safety features include emergency exits every 300m, and fire extinguishers and telephones every 150m. There are emergency laybys every 600m.
In 2005 it was awarded a "Good" rating (on a scale of "Very Poor" to "Very Good") by EuroTAP, the European Tunnel Assessment Programme. As recently as 2003, 44% of those tunnels regarded as being among Europe's most important, failed EuroTAP's safety inspection, and there are fears that many of Europe's tunnels will fail to meet tough new safety measures outlined in a new European Union Tunnel Directive due to come into force in 2014.
In 2010 EuroTAP, in partnership with 16 national automobile clubs, tested 26 tunnels in 13 European countries for safety: one was rated "poor" (Iceland's Hvalfjörður tunnel), two "acceptable", four "good" and 16 "very good".
Among the most common shortcomings was lighting, poor radio reception, and an inadequate supply of breathing equipment inside tunnels. The 2010 tests revealed one in five tunnels to have "insufficient" lighting systems and half lacked adequate breathing equipment for firefighters, which the report claimed "would make rescues in thick smoke impossible."
  • Map showing accident location

    Map showing accident location

  • Emergency crews at the tunnel entrance

    Emergency crews at the tunnel entrance (Photo credit: EPA)

The previous worst crash in a Swiss tunnel was in 2001, when two trucks collided killing 11 people. In March 1999, 39 people died in the Mont Blanc tunnel blaze, which started after a truck inside caught fire.
  • Sierre tunnel entrance portals

    Sierre tunnel entrance portals

  • Flowers laid in remembrance

    Flowers laid in remembrance (Photo credit: EPA)

References
Sprinkler limitations for tunnel fire fighting - TunnelTalk, September 2011
Truck blaze damages UK traffic tunnel - TunnelTalk, July 2011
Fire damage rebuild of Mont Blanc road link - TunnelTalk, June 2001
Fire fighting system unveiled by Eurotunnel - TunnelTalk, February 2011

           

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