NTSB investigators arrive at the scene of a fatal Amtrak derailment in Montana
Eight cars from Amtrak’s Empire Builder train 7/27 traveling from Chicago to Seattle/Portland jumped the tracks around 4 p.m. near Joplin, Montana, Amtrak said. Joplin is around 30 miles south of the Canadian border with a population of about 150 people.
The train consisted of two locomotives and 10 cars and there were about 141 passengers and 16 crew members on board, the company said.
In a statement Sunday, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said the company was in mourning for those killed and injured.
“We have no words that can adequately express our sorrow for those who lost a loved one or who were hurt in this horrible event. They are in our thoughts and prayers,” Flynn said.
He said Amtrak is “fully cooperating with the investigation” and working closely with the NTSB, Federal Railroad Administration, local law enforcement and response agencies.
“We share the sense of urgency to understand why the accident happened; however, until the investigation is complete, we will not comment further on the accident itself. The NTSB will identify the cause or causes of this accident, and Amtrak commits to taking appropriate actions to prevent a similar accident in the future,” the statement reads.
NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg will brief reporters on the incident late Monday afternoon, the agency tweeted Sunday evening.
Passenger describes shock of derailment
Megan Vandervest, a passenger on a sleeper car on the train, had been taking a nap when the derailment jolted her awake.
“I would describe the experience as kind of extreme turbulence on an airplane but louder, and there was kind of a lot of smoke smell. The first thought I really had when I woke up was, ‘Oh my God we’re derailing,'” she told CNN.
“It was probably 10 or 15 seconds of rocking back and forth and tons of noise, and then we came to a stop. Really we didn’t know what was going on for a couple minutes.”
Vandervest said she was evacuated within 10 minutes of the incident and only then understood the extent of the damage.
“We kind of thought maybe the car behind us had slightly come off or something like that, but it ended up being much, much worse and a lot more jarring to see when we got off the train,” she said. “The car behind ours was slightly off and then the one behind that was kind of in between two sets of railroad tracks, and the one behind that one had like completely tipped over and fallen over and that was kind of the most shocking part.”
Seven people hospitalized
Injured passengers were taken by ambulance to the towns of Havre, Shelby, Great Falls and Fort Benton, with those in critical condition flown for treatment, said Amanda Frickel, the disaster and emergency services coordinator for Hill County, Montana.
Sarah Robbin, the disaster and emergency services coordinator for Liberty County, said five people were in a stable condition at Benefis Hospital in Great Falls, with others treated and released from a variety of local hospitals.
Sunday afternoon, a spokeswoman from Logan Health in Kalispell confirmed their facility had two additional patients, bringing the total hospitalized to at least seven.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte offered “thoughts and prayers” to the individuals impacted by the “heartbreaking event.”
“In the face of tragedy, Montanans did what they so best,” Gianforte said at a news conference Sunday. He thanked the community at large for coming together, saying it was “an all of the Hi-Line effort.”
The Empire Builder train travels between Chicago-St.Paul/Minneapolis and Spokane-Portland/Seattle, according to Amtrak’s website, and offers passengers a chance to “experience the rugged splendor of the American West.”
“Traveling between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest along major portions of the Lewis and Clark Trail, the mighty Empire Builder takes you on an exciting adventure through majestic wilderness, following in the footsteps of early pioneers,” the website adds.
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