What the train derailment felt like

The way Charlie Heebner remembers it, being aboard the passenger train that ...

Posted: Dec 20, 2017 12:07 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2017 12:07 AM

The way Charlie Heebner remembers it, being aboard the passenger train that hurtled off an overpass in Washington state Monday morning was "like being inside an exploding bomb."

Heebner, 79, and his wife, Beverly, had looked forward to this trip aboard the Amtrak Cascades 501 train in its inaugural journey from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. The Heebners, longtime train riders, wanted to be on the first run, they told CNN affiliate KOMO.

Survivors share harrowing tales when train derails over I-5

"We could hear crumpling," one passenger says

A jolt and shattered glass interrupted their eagerly awaited trip.

"All of a sudden it was just, crash ... the train went like this," Beverly Heebner, 78, told KOMO, slanting her arms to illustrate.

The train derailed off an overpass near the city of DuPont, sending some of the cars onto a busy Interstate 5.

At least three people were killed, and more than 100 others -- including some highway motorists -- were injured.

"After getting myself upright and my legs unfolded, I saw (my wife's) legs," Charlie Heebner told KOMO. "I reached down and I shook one, and she shook it back. I said, 'Are you all right?' And she said, 'I think so.' "

The couple crawled out of a window of the train, which had been carrying more than 80 people. They told KOMO their harrowing story after they were treated at a hospital for minor injuries and released.

'We were catapulted into the seats'

The train, after running parallel to I-5, went into a curve of the highway. It apparently ran off the track while approaching or crossing the trestle over I-5, with some falling to the road below, landing on vehicles. One rail car dangled precariously over the highway.

The cause of the wreck hasn't been determined. The train was traveling 80 mph in a 30-mph zone, but it's not clear why, National Transportation Safety Board member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr said.

Chris Karnes, a passenger, said he boarded the train between Seattle and Tacoma and took a seat on the third or fourth car.

Karnes said the train was moving at a "pretty good pace," passing cars on the highway while the train was running parallel to the road before it went into the curve over the interstate.

"We felt a little bit of a jolt and then at a certain point we could hear crumpling of the train car, and we were catapulted into the seats in front of us," said Karnes, who also is the chairman of the Pierce Transit Community Transportation Advisory Group.

Karnes' car derailed -- only the rear locomotive remained on the tracks -- and passengers kicked out a window and climbed down an embankment to summon help, he said.

Dispatcher: 'What happened?"

Emergency radio transmissions between the train conductor and the dispatcher were frantic and dramatic:

Amtrak 501: Amtrak 501, emergency, emergency, emergency. We are on the ground! We are on the bridge (unintelligible) on the freeway. We need EMS, ASAP. It looks like they're already starting to show up.

Dispatcher: 501, come in. ... Hey guys, what happened?

Amtrak 501: Uh, we were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right north into Nisqually and we went on the ground.

Dispatcher: ... Is everybody OK?

Amtrak 501: I'm still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.

Army officer helps victims off road, train

Army 2nd Lt. Robert McCoy says he hit the brakes of his truck just in time.

He heard a noise as he was driving on I-5, and glanced ahead to see the train crash through the overpass.

"It hit three vehicles that were in front of me," including a tractor-trailer, McCoy told CNN affiliate KCPQ.

McCoy, assigned to the nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, took a tourniquet and a CPR mask from his truck and headed toward the wreck.

People had been ejected from the train onto the pavement, he said. He carried some of them out of the road to safety, and eventually he and another person went on top of the damaged semi and climbed into a suspended rail car.

"There were people yelling. There were people looking for each other, loved ones," he told KCPQ.

He said he helped a woman who was dangling out of the train.

"Her daughter kind of pulled her out backwards and ... I just reached under her, and just kind of got to a point where I could pick her up and just kind of put her down on some form of semi-safe structure," he told KCPQ.

Another motorist, Daniel Konzelman, was driving with his girlfriend on I-5 headed to work when he saw the train "hanging off of the bridge like you've seen in all the pictures," he told CNN on Monday night.

Konzelman, who told The Seattle Times he was an Eagle Scout who'd been trained in first aid, said he got off the freeway and parked his van. Dressed in a suit, he retrieved an emergency head lamp and boots from the back of his van and rushed to the wreck, he told CNN.

He said he tried to give wreck survivors direction, and helped some of them off the train, until first responders arrived.

"Initially, I climbed into the train car that was positioned sideways on the bridge and made sure that everybody in there was stable, and if they could get out, helped them out," he told CNN. "And if they had an injury, (I) made sure that there was people there to tend to them and stay with them.

"And (I) just kind of systematically worked my way through the cars until the first responders got there, and probably was able to help, I would say, 15 people get out before the firefighters or police officers arrived."

'Stuff started flying around'

Passenger Anthony Raimondi had been on plenty of rail rides before -- he worked for 17 years for Amtrak as a ticket agent in Minnesota.

He was in business class Monday when the car "started to lean."

"Then all of the sudden everything went dark, and stuff started flying around inside the car" before the train came to a stop, he told CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday.

"(We) picked ourselves (up) and shook ourselves off, and one of the passengers pushed out the window," he said.

Raimondi climbed through the window and helped someone else out.

"I feel very, very lucky that I came out with just a bruise here and there," he said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 22464

Reported Deaths: 942
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin7540565
Ramsey2610103
Stearns198412
Nobles14883
Anoka126259
Dakota118244
Olmsted57510
Washington56230
Kandiyohi4751
Rice4112
Clay40625
Scott3792
Todd2960
Wright2691
Sherburne2192
Mower2161
Carver1852
Benton1692
Steele1480
Martin1265
Blue Earth1221
St. Louis11513
Freeborn970
Pine850
Winona7815
Nicollet747
Carlton730
Cottonwood650
Otter Tail620
Unassigned6110
Goodhue603
Watonwan590
Polk592
Crow Wing571
Itasca537
Chisago501
Dodge460
Chippewa441
Meeker440
Le Sueur431
Morrison400
Douglas390
Jackson390
Becker370
Murray360
Lyon360
Isanti330
McLeod290
Waseca240
Rock210
Swift170
Pennington170
Mille Lacs171
Fillmore171
Wabasha170
Brown142
Faribault130
Beltrami130
Sibley130
Cass122
Norman110
Wilkin113
Kanabec111
Pipestone100
Marshall90
Pope80
Wadena80
Aitkin70
Koochiching70
Yellow Medicine60
Lincoln50
Renville50
Mahnomen51
Red Lake40
Traverse30
Big Stone30
Clearwater30
Redwood30
Grant30
Lac qui Parle30
Houston20
Lake10
Hubbard10
Roseau10
Kittson10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 18342

Reported Deaths: 496
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk3876115
Woodbury265831
Black Hawk171343
Linn93876
Marshall87815
Dallas87317
Buena Vista6820
Johnson6058
Muscatine54741
Wapello5384
Crawford4882
Tama40026
Scott34610
Louisa33610
Dubuque33016
Jasper25716
Pottawattamie2277
Sioux2100
Washington1858
Wright1240
Allamakee1194
Plymouth1191
Warren1140
Story961
Poweshiek888
Mahaska888
Bremer676
Henry671
Clinton601
Des Moines581
Boone560
Taylor480
Cedar461
Guthrie443
Clarke400
Benton391
Jones360
Iowa360
Monroe354
Shelby350
Clayton313
Buchanan310
Osceola310
Marion300
Webster291
Hamilton280
Madison261
Fayette260
Monona240
Lee230
Cherokee230
Winneshiek230
Cerro Gordo221
Davis200
Jefferson190
Harrison190
Lyon190
Grundy190
Floyd181
Sac170
Mills160
Hardin150
Butler150
Delaware150
Humboldt140
Ida140
Keokuk140
Hancock140
Appanoose133
Jackson130
Dickinson130
Clay130
Greene130
Howard120
Audubon121
Winnebago110
Cass110
Page100
Van Buren90
Franklin90
Carroll90
Pocahontas90
Chickasaw80
Emmet80
Unassigned80
Kossuth80
Adair70
Adams70
Lucas70
Union60
Montgomery60
Mitchell50
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Palo Alto30
Worth30
Calhoun20
Decatur10
Wayne10
Rochester
Scattered Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 66°
Mason City
Few Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 71°
Albert Lea
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 72°
Austin
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 72°
Charles City
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 68°
Lingering showers Thursday AM will turn to sunshine by the afternoon
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events