Five killed, 80 injured in train collision

Train wreck 298 ch 10 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Train wreck 298 ch 10
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Five people were killed and 80 injured, some seriously, after the locomotive and two carriages derailed and collapsed atop each other in a twisted pile of wrecked steel. Rescue services worked for hours to extract at least 10 people trapped inside one overturned and mangled carriage, using heavy machine saws and other equipment to cut through the remains, even as other carriages teetered dangerously above them. IAF helicopters landed nearby to evacuate the injured, while the elite airborne unit 669 arrived to assist. Police chief Moshe Karadi said the accident occurred after two cars collided at the Beit Yehoshua crossing, leaving one of them stranded across the tracks as the barriers came down. Passing motorists rescued the driver of that vehicle, an Isuzu pick-up truck, moments before the collision. Seconds later, the train plowed into the truck. The oncoming train traveling from Ben-Gurion Airport to Haifa - an express train that rushed through the area at speeds up to 140 km/h en route to its next stop at Binyamina - was unable to stop in time. When the train hit the stalled car, it derailed, flipped over, and continued for another few dozen meters northbound, dragging the car with it. The train's momentum carried it over 100 meters past the crossing, where as the carriages derailed, they slammed on top of each other, bringing down nearby trees and leaving a wide swath of debris as they careened down the tracks. Parts of the train's suspension and wheels disconnected from the force of the collision, and lay strewn alongside the track. The engine and the two lead passenger carriages landed in a crumpled heap halfway between the junction and Beit Yehoshua station, with the carriages wedged in the rail bed, situated at the bottom of a steep embankment. "The train was in an almost completely impossible situation," said Linchevski at a press conference hours after the collision. "The train's driver operated the emergency brake and honked about 300 meters before the crash, but was unable to stop." About 150 passengers were on the train when the accident took place, police said. Alongside the Magen David Adom rescue service, police and the fire brigade worked together with 669 and the Homefront Command's national search and rescue team to rescue injured. The emergency personnel response was massive, involving over 330 emergency response personnel and 80 volunteers. One of the passengers, Haim Portnoy, said at first he didn't understand what was happening. "I was traveling in the second carriage, when suddenly we were enveloped in dust," he said. "I held on tight, and fell against the window, and when the carriage stopped moving, it was on its side. I saw some people bleeding, and I helped them to get out through the window." Rescue services arrived within 10 minutes, he said. "It was completely claustrophobic," said Noam, a paramedic with the airborne 669 unit. "There wasn't enough room to move, we had to take off all our equipment to get inside. The carriage kept moving while we working inside. Some of the injured were conscious. One of them was conscious, but as we tried to get her out her condition deteriorated and she died. "It was very intense. You're trying to make sure nothing falls on you, nothing crushes you while you're working, on the other hand you're trying to work on the victims who are trapped," Noam said. "I was one of the first at the Park Hotel bombing," he said, referring to a suicide bombing in March 2002 that killed 30 people, "and this was at the same level as that." Most of the people who were trapped were in the first carriage. "There were 10 people trapped inside, including those who died, and along with the fire brigade we began to evacuate them," said Lt. Yehuda from the Home Front Command's evacuation unit. "It was very, very hard, and suffocating, intensive work. We had to prop up the entire carriage with poles, because we were afraid it would fall over. There were three people conscious inside the carriage, and we tried to calm them down; we gave them some water. They were crushed, and we had to find a way to get to them. One by one, we began to pull them out," he said. As the sun set on Monday night, the rescuers went home, and heavy cranes prepared to lift 300 tons of crumpled metal train carriages off of the tracks, more questions than answers remained as to the causes behind the crash that killed five and injured 77. Since the horrific train accident almost exactly a year ago at an ungraded crossing near Kibbutz Revadim that killed seven people and injured 190, Linchevski said, a crossing inspector had been stationed at the site of the Monday's accident, but only during peak hours, and had left his post at 10 a.m. The incident occurred about two hours later, a few minutes past noon. The crossing had been designated as one of 24 dangerous crossing points, he said, and there were plans to build an underpass to replace it. Late in the evening, police detained one man for suspected complicity in the collision even as Israel Railways defended its right to withhold documents pertaining to the investigation of a similar deadly crash whose first anniversary was to be commemorated Monday. Since the accident at Revadim, difficult questions were also addressed to Israel Railways, the company that runs all of the country's trains. Four months after that incident, a special police taskforce established to probe the crash recommended pressing charges against two Israel Railways officials on charges of causing death by negligence due to their alleged responsibility for the fatal train disaster. The findings were transferred to the State Attorney's Office, which was supposed to decide whether indictments will be filed. But the rail company refused to hand over documents that could have been self-incriminating, and, in fact, the hearing with regard to the documents was slated to have been held on Monday afternoon. Among other conclusions made following the Revadim crash, NIS 1 billion was supposed to be budgeted, for building - in cooperation with the Ministry of Transportation - grade separations (bridges or tunnels) at 31 locations where roads cross railway tracks. The Beit Yehoshua crossing was one of those locations. Similarly, after acknowledging in 2003 the danger of the Revadim crossing, Israel Railways had stationed a worker to direct traffic at that crossing, but he went home at 3:30 p.m. on that fateful Tuesday, two hours before the accident. In addition, inspectors were looking into claims that while the IR control room was allegedly aware of the truck stopped on the tracks, the conductor failed to answer control-center warnings over his walkie-talkie until it was too late. Linchevski, who began his job at the company after his predecessor, Yossi Mor, resigned following two major rail collisions last summer, denied that the train driver could have prevented Monday's crash.