Belgians Deploy Cranes to Reunite Families in Corona Crisis

In this photo taken on Saturday, May 9, 2020, Jean-Claude Van Heule, left, receives a visit by crane platform from his brother, Omer Van Heule, at the La Cambre senior living home in Watermael-Boitsfort, Belgium. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

WATERMAEL-BOITSFORT, Belgium (AP) — Something he saw as he drove to work one morning gave Tristan Van den Bosch an uplifting idea.

“I saw a man shouting at his mother,” said Van den Bosch.

Not unusual — except that the man was on the ground and his mother was three stories up. She was, like many seniors, locked down in a care home to avoid the COVID-19 virus. But as days have turned to weeks and months, families like this one have struggled.

“We can help this man!” Van den Bosch thought.


As operations manager at Group-f, a cleaning and maintenance company, Van der Bosch had a problem. The pandemic had reduced business to a trickle, leaving many of his cranes standing idle in the depot.

Why not use those cranes to lift people, so they can see relatives on the upper floors of homes for the aged?

Since then, Van den Bosch has been driving his cranes to homes in several towns across Belgium. A platform carries families to their relatives’ windows. A daughter or grandson waves, and worries vanish from faces creased by age. No internet connection does as well.

Eve Putseys didn’t quite know what to expect as she was lifted up to see her 88-year-old aunt, Suzanne, at the La Cambre care home on the outskirts of Brussels.

“It’s been seven long weeks since I haven’t been able to see her,” she said. “It’s all quite emotional.”

Afterward, Putseys was all smiles.

“I got to see her — and that was great,” she said. And on top of that “she looked very happy to see me.”

The anxiety of families with relatives in nursing homes is well placed; of the 8,843 confirmed and suspected cases who had died of the virus in Belgium as of Tuesday, 4,538 were in such facilities. Their families are left feeling helpless, fearing they will not see each other again.

Little wonder Van den Bosch had little trouble filling his platforms for this special kind of joyride.

The La Cambre home prepared the facility, the families and the elderly to make sure everything went smoothly.


“It has been hard work but quite rewarding,” said La Cambre director Thibaut Chevrier. “We only saw emotions through the eyes of the residents and the families.”

Soon, Group-f officials expect, the platforms will again be used to clean up facades and office fronts. But in the meantime, they have been put to good use.

“Yes, OK, it costs money, the operators cost money but the machines are all used,” Van den Bosch said. And in the end, “we’re happy that we have been able to help people.”