July 25, 2013

80 dead in Spain train crash; dramatic video shows impact

An analysis of video images suggests that the train may have been traveling at twice the speed limit for that stretch of track.

By Hernan Munoz / The Associated Press

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This combination image taken from security camera video shows clockwise from top left the train derailing in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wednesday.

AP

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This aerial image taken from video shows the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday. The train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern city, a judicial official said.

AP

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In the background, the rear carriages could be seen starting to decouple and come off the tracks. The picture went blank as the engine appeared to crash directly into the camera.

After impact, witnesses said, a fire engulfed passengers trapped in at least one carriage, most likely driven by ruptured tanks of diesel fuel carried in the forward engines.

"I saw the train coming out of the bend at great speed and then there was a big noise," one eyewitness who lives beside the train line, Consuelo Domingues, told The Associated Press. "Then everybody tried to get out of the train."

Other witnesses said nearby residents ran onto the tracks and worked to free survivors from the crumpled, flaming wreckage. Some were seen pounding rocks against windows, and one man wielded a pickaxe as survivors were pulled through shattered windows to safety.

Many aboard the train were Catholic pilgrims heading for Santiago de Compostela's internationally celebrated annual festival honoring St. James, a disciple of Jesus whose remains are said to rest in a church shrine. Since the Middle Ages, the city has been the destination for Christian faithful walking the mountainous El Camino de Santiago trail, or "The Way of St. James."

Santiago officials canceled Thursday's festivities and took control of the city's indoor basketball arena to use as a makeshift morgue. There, relatives of the dead could be seen sobbing and embracing each other.

The Interior Ministry, responsible for law and order, ruled out terrorism as a cause.

While sections of the Spanish press pointed an accusatory finger at the train driver, government officials and railway experts cautioned that a fault in systems designed to keep trains at safe speeds could be to blame.

Jose Antonio Santamera, president of Spain's College of Civil Engineering, said one of the train's supposedly fail-safe mechanisms could have failed.

"The security system will detect any fault of the driver, (for example) if he has suffered a blackout and does not answer calls, and then starts the train's security systems. So I almost rule out human error," Santamera said.

He said the crash happened at a point where one speed-regulating system gave way to another, suggesting a possible failure at the handover point.

Spain's lead investigator in the crash, Judge Vazquez Tain, ordered detectives to question the train driver.

Renfe identified the driver, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, as a 30-year employee of the state rail company who became an assistant driver in 2000 and a fully qualified driver in 2003. The company said Amo took control of the train from a second driver about 100 kilometers (65 miles) south of Santiago de Compostela.

Renfe's president, Julio Gomez-Pomar Rodriguez, told Spain's Cadena Cope radio network that the driver had worked on that route for more than one year.

It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972, when a train collided with a stationary carriage in southwest Spain, killing 86 people and injuring 112.

"July 24 will no longer be the eve of a day of celebration but rather one commemorating one of the saddest days in the history of Galicia," said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, regional president of Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is its capital.

Rescue workers spent the night searching through smashed carriages, some of which had jackknifed and come to rest vertically against the high concrete safety barrier. One carriage had been torn in two. Rescue workers lined up bodies covered in blankets.

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Additional Photos

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Emergency personnel conduct rescue operations Thursday at the site of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The passenger train derailed Wednesday night on a curvy stretch of track in northwestern Spain, the country's worst rail accident in decades.

AP

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Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wednesday. Although it was not one of Spain's fastest trains, it was a relatively luxurious version that uses the same kind of track as Spain's fastest expresses.

AP

 


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