WATCH ABOVE: At least 6 dead after Amtrak train 188 derails in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA – The engineer at the controls of an Amtrak passenger train that derailed refused to talk to police on Wednesday, while search-and-rescue workers found a body in mangled train cars that had brought the nation’s busiest rail corridor to a halt. The death toll increased to seven, with more than 200 people injured, some critically.
Philadelphia’s mayor said the train’s data recorder has been recovered, but officials warned that the number of people unaccounted for was not yet confirmed after Tuesday night’s crash and that search-and-rescue work was taking precedence over the investigation.
“It’s a devastating scene,” said Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board.
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The rail corridor between New York and Washington remained closed as investigators looked for what went wrong. President Barack Obama called the derailment “a tragedy that touches us all.”
Amtrak said the train was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members. The engineer, who has not been identified, declined to provide a statement to authorities and left a meeting with an attorney, Philadelphia police said.
Amid fears that the death toll could rise, Mayor Michael Nutter said some passengers listed on the Amtrak manifest might not have boarded the train, while others might not have checked in with authorities.
The mayor said some of the seven train cars, including the engine, “completely overturned, on their side, ripped apart.”
The train, travelling from Washington, D.C. to New York City, lurched to the side and flew off the tracks at a notorious curve not far from the scene of one of the nation’s deadliest train wrecks more than 70 years ago.
Passengers scrambled through the windows of toppled cars to escape. At least 10 were hospitalized in critical condition. Injuries included burns and broken bones.
An Associated Press video software architect was among those killed. Jim Gaines, a 48-year-old father of two, had attended meetings in Washington. His death was confirmed by his wife, Jacqueline.
The train conductor survived and was expected to give a statement to police. The train also had a video camera in its front end that could yield clues to what happened, Sumwalt said.
The Federal Railroad Administration said Amtrak inspected tracks in Philadelphia just hours before the derailment and found no defects. It said the speed limit on the track just before the accident site is 70 mph (112 kph), and 50 mph for the curve near where the train came to a rest.
Passenger Jillian Jorgensen, 27, said the train was going “fast enough for me to be worried” when it began a hard bank to the right. The train derailed, and the lights went out. Jorgensen said she “flew across the train” and landed underneath some seats.
Jorgensen said she managed to wriggle free as passengers screamed. She saw one man lying still, his face covered in blood, and a woman with a broken leg.
“It was terrifying and awful, and as it was happening it just did not feel like the kind of thing you could walk away from, so I feel very lucky,” Jorgensen said in an email to The Associated Press. “The scene in the car I was in was total disarray and people were clearly in a great deal of pain.”
The area where the derailment occurred is not far from the scene of one of the deadliest U.S. train accidents: the 1943 derailment of The Congressional Limited, from Washington to New York, which killed 79 people.
Amtrak said rail service on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Philadelphia had been stopped.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was on the train and tweeted photos of firefighters helping other people in the wreckage.
“Pray for those injured,” he said.
— Patrick J. Murphy (@PatrickMurphyPA) May 13, 2015
WATCH: Aerial view of Amtrak train crash the morning after
Award-winning AP video software architect Jim Gaines was among those killed. Gaines, a 48-year-old father of two who joined the news agency in 1998, had attended meetings in Washington and was returning home to Plainsboro, New Jersey.
The Naval Academy did not immediately release the name of the midshipman killed. It said the student was on leave and heading home.
All seven train cars, including the engine, were in “various stages of disarray,” Nutter said. He said there were cars that were “completely overturned, on their side, ripped apart.”
An AP manager, Paul Cheung, was on the train and said he was watching a video on his laptop when “the train started to decelerate, like someone had slammed the brake.”
“Then suddenly you could see everything starting to shake,” he said. “You could see people’s stuff flying over me.”
Cheung said another passenger urged him to escape from the back of his car, which he did. He said he saw passengers trying to get out through the windows of cars tipped on their sides.
“The front of the train is really mangled,” he said. “It’s a complete wreck. The whole thing is like a pile of metal.”
Gaby Rudy, an 18-year-old from Livingston, New Jersey, was headed home from George Washington University. She said she was nearly asleep when she suddenly felt the train “fall off the track.”
The next few minutes were filled with broken glass and smoke, said Rudy, who suffered minor injuries. “They told us we had to run away from the train in case another train came,” she said.
Another passenger, Daniel Wetrin, was among more than a dozen people taken to a nearby elementary school.
“I think the fact that I walked off kind of made it even more surreal because a lot of people didn’t walk off,” he said. “I walked off as if, like, I was in a movie. There were people standing around, people with bloody faces. There were people, chairs, tables mangled about in the compartment … power cables all buckled down as you stepped off the train.”
Several people, including one man complaining of neck pain, were rolled away on stretchers. Others wobbled as they walked away or were put on buses. An elderly woman was given oxygen.
The area where the wreck happened is known as Frankford Junction, situated in a neighborhood of warehouses, industrial buildings and homes.
It is not far from the site of the 1943 derailment of the Congressional Limited, from Washington to New York, which killed 79 people.
Amtrak carries 11.6 million passengers a year along its busy Northeast Corridor, which runs between Washington and Boston.
The mayor, citing the mangled tracks and downed wires, said: “There’s no circumstance under which there would be any Amtrak service this week through Philadelphia.”
Associated Press reporters Maryclaire Dale, Michael R. Sisak and Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this story.