80 dead in Spain train crash blamed on high speed

Victims are removed from the wreckage of a train traveling from Madrid to Ferrol, Spain, that derailed near Santiago de Compostela.

One American was among the 80 killed and five others from the U.S. were among the scores injured when a speeding train crashed.

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — A Spanish train that hurtled off the rails and smashed into a security wall as it rounded a bend was going so fast that carriages tumbled off the tracks like dominos, killing 80 people including an American, according to eyewitness accounts and video footage obtained Thursday.

Terrifying new video of Spain train derailment

Terrifying new video of Spain train derailment
Duration: 0:56 Views: 159k MSN News/Newsy

An Associated Press analysis of video images suggests that the train may have been traveling at twice the speed limit for that stretch of track.

Spain's government said two probes have been launched into the cause of Wednesday night's crash near this Christian festival city in northwest Spain. The regional government in Galicia confirmed that the train driver, hospitalized in Santiago de Compostela's main hospital with unspecified injuries, was being questioned as a possible suspect but was also investigating possible faults in safety equipment.

Spain train wreck: A fireman carries a wounded girl on Wednesday.Reuters: Xoan A. Soler: Monica Ferreiros: La Voz de Galicia

A fireman carries a wounded victim from the wreckage of a train crash near Santiago de Compostela on Tuesday.

The regional government in Galicia confirmed that police planned to question the 52-year-old train driver, in Santiago de Compostela's main hospital with unspecified injuries, as both a witness and as a possible suspect, but cautioned that possible faults in safety equipment were also being investigated.

The Interior Ministry raised the death toll to 80 in what was Spain's deadliest train wreck in four decades. The Galician government said 94 remained hospitalized in six regional hospitals, 31 of them — including four children — in critical condition.

The U.S. State Department said one American was killed in the crash and five others were injured. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said those numbers were "likely to change" and declined to elaborate.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a native of Santiago de Compostela, toured the crash scene alongside rescue workers and went to a nearby hospital to visit those wounded and their families.

"For a native of Santiago, like me, this is the saddest day," said Rajoy, who declared Spain would observe a three-day period of mourning. He said judicial authorities and the Public Works Ministry had launched parallel investigations into what caused the crash.

Spain train crash: Relatives of one of the victims of a train crash comfort each other near Santiago de Compostela on Thursday.Reuters: Miguel Vidal

Relatives of one of the victims of a train crash comfort each other near Santiago de Compostela on Thursday.

Eyewitness accounts backed by security-camera footage of the moment of disaster suggested that the eight-carriage train was going too fast as it tried to turn left underneath a road bridge. The train company Renfe said 218 passengers and five crew members were on board. Spanish officials said the speed limit on that section of track is 50 miles per hour.

An Associated Press estimate of the train's speed at the moment of impact using the time stamp of the video and the estimated distance between two pylons gives a range of 89-119 mph. Another estimate calculated on the basis of the typical distance between railroad ties gives a range of 96-112 mph.

The video footage, which the Spanish railway authority Adif said probably came from one of its cameras, shows the train carriages start to buckle soon into the turn.

Murray Hughes, consultant editor of Railway Gazette International, said it appeared that a diesel-powered unit behind the lead locomotive was the first to derail. The front engine itself quickly followed, violently tipping on to its right side as it crashed into a concrete security wall and bulldozed along the ground.

In the background, all the rear carriages could be seen starting to decouple and come off the tracks. The picture went blank as the engine appeared to crash directly into the camera.

After impact, witnesses said a fire engulfed passengers trapped in at least one carriage, most likely driven by ruptured tanks of diesel fuel carried in the forward engines.

Spain train crash: A passenger train derailed in Spain.AP Graphic

"I saw the train coming out of the bend at great speed and then there was a big noise," one eyewitness who lives beside the train line, Consuelo Domingues, told The Associated Press. "... Then everybody tried to get out of the train."

Train derailment: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Galicia's regional President Alberto Nunez Feijoo visit the site of a train accident near the city of Santiago de CompostelaGetty Images: Lavandeira Jr.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Galicia's regional President Alberto Nunez Feijoo visit the site of a train accident near the city of Santiago de Compostela on July 25, 2013.

Santiago officials had been preparing for the city's internationally celebrated Catholic festival Thursday but canceled it and took control of the city's main indoor sports arena to use as a makeshift morgue. There, relatives of the dead could be seen sobbing and embracing each other.

The Interior Ministry, responsible for law and order, ruled out terrorism as a cause.

While sections of the Spanish press pointed an accusatory finger at the train driver, Spanish authorities and railway safety experts cautioned that a fault in systems designed to keep trains traveling at safe speeds could be to blame.

Spain's lead investigator in the crash, Judge Vazquez Taín, ordered detectives to question the train driver.

Renfe identified the driver, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, as a 30-year employee of the state rail company who became an assistant driver in 2000 and a fully qualified driver in 2003. The company said Amo took control of the train from a second driver about 65 miles south of Santiago de Compostela.

Renfe's president, Julio Gomez-Pomar Rodriguez, president of Renfe, told Spain's Cadena Cope radio network that the driver had worked on that route for more than one year.

It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972, when a train collided with a bus in southwest Spain, killing 86 people and injuring 112.

"July 24 will no longer be the eve of a day of celebration but rather one commemorating one of the saddest days in the history of Galicia," said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, regional president of Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is its capital.

The accident created a scene that was "Dante-esque," Feijoo said. He said Galicia would observe seven days of mourning.

Rescue workers spent the night searching through smashed carriages alongside the tracks.

As dawn broke, cranes brought to the scene were used to lift the carriages away from the tracks. Rescue workers collected passengers' scattered luggage and loaded it into a truck next to the tracks.

Rescuers described a scene of horror immediately after the crash. Smoke billowed from at least one carriage that had caught fire, while another had been torn into two parts.

Residents of the residential neighborhood closest to the rail line struggled to help victims out of the toppled cars. Some passengers were pulled out of broken windows. Television images showed one man atop a carriage lying on its side, using a pickaxe to try to smash through a window. Other rescuers used rocks to try to free survivors from the fiery wreckage.

Nearby, rescue workers lined up bodies covered in blankets alongside the tracks.

Train derailment: Relatives of victims involved in a train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.AP Photo: Brais Lorenzo

Relatives of victims involved in a train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

It was the world's third major rail accident this month.

On July 12, six people were killed and nearly 200 were injured when four cars of a passenger train derailed south of Paris.

Related: 6 dead after train derails en route from Paris

On July 6, 72 cars carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, setting off explosions and fires that killed 47 people.

Related: 'Train from hell' brings grief to Quebec town

Several injured passengers said they felt a strong vibration just before the cars jumped the tracks, according to Xabier Martinez, a photographer who talked with them after arriving at the scene as rescue workers were still removing bodies.

One passenger, Ricardo Montero, told the Cadena Ser radio station that "when the train reached that bend it began to flip over, many times, with some carriages ending up on top of others, leaving many people trapped below. We had to get under the carriages to get out."

Spain train crash: Dozens killed by a train crash in Spain on Wednesday.Reuters Photo: Oscar Corral

Rescue workers pull victims from a train crash near Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

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