One survivor of the Amtrak Train 501 derailment says the moment the train went off the tracks felt like an explosion.
The train derailed when it was going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone along a curve near Dupont, Wash., on Monday morning, killing three passengers and sending more than 70 others to the hospital.
“Initially, I thought it was an explosion, that someone had put a mine on the track or something, because it was horrific,” Rudy Wetzel told NBC affiliate King5.
Wetzel, an 81-year-old train enthusiast spoke with the local media before the crash. He said he was excited for the new route between Seattle and Portland because it was going to shave time off his travels. The passenger train was on its maiden voyage along this route.
He detailed his experience to reporters from his hospital bed on Tuesday.
“I decided to take a little nap, a 30-minute nap, and next thing I know I was flying all over the train. When it was all over, I tried to orient myself, and I was underneath a part of the train,” he said.
“And I could see right next to my head a rail car wheel spinning in the air, so I was very much afraid the thing would collapse on me.
“So I dug myself out, I crawled out, and I was going to help some other people but I realized that I needed help myself and a young lady came and pulled me into safety.”
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Wetzel broke multiple vertebrae in his back, but says he’s doing well “under the circumstances.”
He praised the first responders and everyday citizens who helped him and everyone else.
He told King5 he thought the train was going at 40 mph, and was confused as to why it was actually travelling at 80 mph.
“I cannot understand how this could happen, why it cranked up to that speed?” he asked. “Something went wrong somewhere.”
Investigators are currently looking into causes of the crash. All 14 train cars (including the two engines) will be transported somewhere the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) can examine them.
One official told the Associated Press they were looking into the possibility that the train engineer was distracted by the presence of an employee-in-training.
An official briefed on the investigation told AP that preliminary signs indicate the train may have struck something. Positive train control — technology that can automatically slow or stop a speeding train — wasn’t in use on this stretch of track.
But despite the derailment and the injuries, Wetzel still said he’ll keep taking the train.
“The train is so safe, I’ve done this for 10 years,” he said. “I’ve never been on a train derailment on this line period (before now). It’s much safer than a car and much more relaxing.”
*with a file from the Associated Press
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