MOSCOW, April 14 (RIA Novosti) – A bus carrying a group of Russian youngsters crashed near Antwerp in northern Belgium on Sunday, killing at least five people, Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency spokeswoman Irina Shchegolkova said.
“According to information available to us, five have died: the bus driver, the tour guide, the head of the group and two teenagers while 17 are injured, including five in grave condition,” Shchegolkova said referring to a report from the Belgium crisis center. "According to their information, the bus was carrying 43 people,” Shchegolkova said.
The accident occurred on Sunday morning when a Polish bus carrying Russian tourists from the Volgograd region, south Russia, crashed off a highway in Ranst commune near the northern port of Antwerp.
Russian Union of Tourist Industry spokeswoman Irina Tyurina said the bus was carrying a total of 39 people, of whom 31 were Russian youngsters aged 15-17 and eight adults.
“All the bus passengers were Russians,” said Georgy Kuznetsov, the press officer of the Russian embassy in Brussels. He said three Russians and two Polish nationals died in the crash and 19 others were injured.
The Russian tourists were on their way to Paris when the accident occurred. The sightseeing trip, which started from the Belarusian city of Brest, included stops in Poland and Germany.
Six Russians, who were injured in the accident, will remain for treatment in a Belgian hospital, local officials said. Other people, who received light injuries, are staying at the Het Groihof recreation center in Pulle, near Antwerp.
The director of Severnaya Zhemchuzhina, a firm, that organized the tour, Nina Solovei, said the bus was in a good condition and answered to all the European safety standards, and its drivers were experienced.
Belgian media said the accident might have occurred as the bus driver fell asleep or became unwell. The reports said there were no other vehicles involved and there were no skid marks on the road. An investigation is ongoing.
An Il-76 plane of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry, equipped with medical modules and with doctors and psychologists aboard, took off to Belgium on Sunday to provide medical assistance to Russians who suffered in the bus crash, the ministry’s press office said.
The ministry also sent a Yak-42 plane on Sunday to bring the Russian tourists, who were slightly injured or unhurt in the accident, back home.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has offered his condolences to all those affected in the crash. He said his “thoughts go to the victims.” “The Belgian emergency services and authorities [are doing] everything to help,” he said in his Twitter blog.
Updated at 22.51 with details.