Amtrak derailment: Heroic soldier risks life to save countless passengers after crash
Amtrak train 501 derailed over a busy freeway between Olympia and DuPont during the morning rush hour, leaving six dead and several more injured. That toll would have been higher if it weren't for the efforts of one brave soldier.
Amtrak train 501, which departed shortly before 8 am local time from Tacoma on Monday and was heading for Portland, Oregon was carrying 80 passengers, three crew, and two service personnel when it derailed during the morning rush hour.
The crash meant part of the train was dangling over a busy freeway between Olympia and DuPont and left 6 people dead, with another 100 approximately injured. That tally would no doubt have been higher if it weren't for the actions of a brave soldier.
Army 2nd Lt. Robert McCoy was driving his truck to work at the nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord when he heard a loud bang and saw the train cars from the Amtrak spilling over on to the freeway. The train would fall upon three cars that were in front of him but he would manage to slam the brakes on just in time.
Talking to KCPQ, an affiliate of CNN, he said: "The train is going south and I’m just kind of driving, just driving, and I hear a loud noise and I look up and I see the train and it hits the concrete walls on the side and when it hits the walls — the walls kind of exploded — and the train just falls off. I see the train fall and it kind of falls on itself … and it hits three vehicles that were in front of me — a semi, an F-150 and a Kia Soul."
McCoy serves in the Army's medical field and he knew the moment the train crashed that his training had to be put to use. He would go on to grab a tourniquet and a CPR mask from his car and head towards the scene of the accident. He said: "There were individuals who had been ejected from the train onto the pavement. And so my first initial thought was, I don't know how stable this is. If this train continues to fall, it's gonna fall on these individuals."
Knowing he had to act quickly, he began carrying many of the ejected passengers out of the road and to safety, later turning his attention to the people trapped inside the dangling car. He and another good samaritan would proceed to climb on top of the damaged semi and onto the suspended rail car, finding 20-30 passengers trapped inside.
Amongst those trapped was also a family whose grandmother was partially dangling outside the train car. He said: "She was kind at the end here, dangling out, but another downed rail car was right here. Her daughter kind of pulled her out backward and I just reached under her and picked her up and put her down on some form of safe structure."
He continued: "I couldn't afford to be scared, I couldn't afford to be shocked. I had to do what I am called to do and focus and channel that and help these people around me get to safety as best as possible."
McCoy wasn't alone in his efforts. He was joined by Madigan Army Medical Center's deputy commander of administration Lt. Col Christopher Sloan, and Madigan Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Maj. Michael Livingston, who were driving with him at the time of the accident.
Speaking at a press conference, Lt. Col Christopher Sloan said: "There was compassion, there was a clear understanding that people were in need of help. I said to myself immediately, this is a mass casualty scenario."
Adding on to that sentiment was Maj. Michael Livingston, who said: "I just knew people needed help. I had no idea it was an inaugural run of the train or anything, It was - what can I do to help as fast as possible and keep these people safe."
Their efforts meant that the casualty count of six and injury count of approximately 100 was not any higher. According to MultiCare Health System, a local network of medical centers, 22 people involved in the crash had been hospitalized at three of their facilities. According to NPR, five patients were sent to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, with multiple other medical centers reporting receiving patients from the crash.
A spokesman for the Washington State Patrol said there were an additional 23 injuries in total, 10 in serious condition, four with moderate injuries and nine with minor injuries.
The incident took place during the maiden voyage of the train on the newly established Amtrak route aimed at adding more frequent, more reliable and faster service between Seattle and Portland. Part of an $800 million project called the Cascades High-Speed Rail Capital Program, this route was said to have cost around $181 million.
It was determined by federal investigators that the derailment happened because the train was traveling at a speed of 80 mph on a 30-mph stretch of track, proving concerned local citizens' fears that the new, faster route could be the scene of an accident much faster than anyone anticipated.
Indeed, Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson even predicted as much, saying: "Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens."
While investigations continue, many passengers on the ill-fated train will no doubt be thanking the three brave soldiers for saving their lives.
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