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Five dead in Belgian coach crash
Five people died and several were badly injured when a coach carrying Russian youngsters on their way to Paris crashed early on Sunday in northern Belgium, officials said. The Polish-registered coach had 42 passengers on board when it swerved off the E34 motorway approaching Antwerp at around 6.30. A spokesman for the commune of Ranst, about 10km outside Antwerp, said three of the young passengers and the two Polish drivers died. Nineteen people were injured, six of them seriously, including one who is in a critical condition, he said. The others have left hospital after receiving treatment. Early reports said the passengers were aged between 15 and 22, but the Ranst spokesman said some were as young as 10. In a statement, the commune said the passengers were all from Volgograd in south-eastern Russia and were en route to Paris. Contacted by AFP, the Russian embassy in Brussels was not able to provide any immediate information. Prime minister Elio Di Rupo said his thoughts went to the victims and “the Belgian emergency services and authorities (are doing) everything to help.” A spokesman for interior minister Joelle Milquet said the government was working with Russian and Polish diplomats to organise facilities for the families of the victims if they decided to come to Belgium. Pictures showed the badly damaged coach lying on its side below a motorway bridge and then being righted by a crane and put back on the road. Reports said no other vehicle had been involved and the coach had apparently swerved off the road and through a guard rail, sliding down the embankment before coming to a halt. The immediate cause of the crash was unknown, with no signs that the coach had braked sharply. Ranst commune said it was too early to speculate about the possible cause after local reports suggested the driver might have fallen asleep or become ill. An official investigation has been launched. Today Het Nieuwsblad and De Standaard report that the Polish coach company had already been blamed for failing to comply with driving and rest times. Three drivers have recently been reprimanded by controllers, the Polish consulate in Belgium confirmed. The tour operator, however, told Het Laatste Nieuws that the two drivers involved in the crash had followed the rest times and that they were experienced. The man at the wheel at the time of the crash had been driving for less than an hour, and the vehicle was new.