I KNOW THAT EVERYONE is tired of hearing about our double tragedy in the air and underground. I know that memories of the Metro accident are likely to fade fairly soon. That's the danger -- forgetting, letting it rest, allowing nothing to be done.
But I don't want it to rest. I was on that ill-fated train, seated in the middle of the car that was crushed, amid the people who died. I particularly cannot let rest the impression many people may still have that those who died may have been trampled to death by the rest of us.
I don't know how an official at the scene could have made such a horrid suggestion to a television reporter. Perhaps there is just a natural tendency by officials to blame victims rather than other officials. But he was not on that train as it left Federal Triangle for the Smithsonian stop at about 4:25 p.m., jammed with passengers.
We slowly entered the tunnel and then, abruptly, the train stopped with two thuds. The lights went out, the air flow was cut off, and a few dim lights came on. We sat there for a few minutes with no communication from the conductor. I wondered if the speaker system was working, given the power outage.
With a small jolt, the train began to go slowly backwards. A woman screamed. Then the car began to rock violently. Out the window I would see bursts of light and sparks. I looked down the car and saw people being tossed about like a sea of tall grass in a strong wind, grabbing on to each other.
Then I saw a wall out the window across from me. We went into it, and the side of the car was being pushed inward. I closed my eyes and felt an awesome crush of bodies against me. Shards of glass had flown about. I could feel some on my face.
The car had stopped. It was dark except for the muted light in the tunnel. Smoke and dust filled the area where I sat. People naturally began to scream, yelling for the doors to open. Others were in agony from the pain of their injuries.
My first reaction was to cover my mouth and not breathe in the smoke. But many of us simultaneously sensed that the greatest danger was an incipient panic. I remember saying in a loud voice, over and over, "Don't panic. Don't panic. Whatever you do, remain calm, remain calm." A chorus of other people were saying the same thing, and in about 30 seconds order was restored.
An overwhelming fear in many minds was fire. I knew that if a fire broke out we would all get a taste of hell before dying. From the back of the wreckage, toward Federal Triangle, we could see and hear the flash of severed electrical cable.
"Fire," said a trembling woman.
"No, there is no fire," some of us immediately replied, praying (at least I was) at the same time that we were right.
In my lap and at my feet were passengers who knew their bones were broken. Across from me, I could hear a man saying, again and again, "Demon, demon, get off me, get off me. I can't breathe, I can't breathe."
A few of us tried to urge him not to talk, that he might be able to breathe better if he did not speak. He was pinned beneath the wreckage. The only thing he could move was his right arm. He was desperately trying to escape and live.
This man was in the middle of a bizzare, twisted sandwich of people. Underneath him, in a sitting position, was an older woman. In front of me an injured woman fumbled with a penlight and, as the light skittered over the scene before us, I caught sight of an eye of the older woman. It was open in a dead stare.
The pinned man himself was positioned across the seat. I couldn't see his lower body. Standing against him, with his body facing into the wreckage, was another man. He said nothing. He did not move. I could see that the back of his head was compressed against the buckled ceiling. Blood tricked down his neck; it seemed to be coming from his left ear. (Later I learned that he survived.)
To his left, about four rows of seats had been obliterated by the impact with the concrete wall. If anyone was under there, I thought, they could not be alive. (Someone, it turned out, had been under there. She was one of those who died, along with the pinned man and the woman underneath him.)
I remember saying to the man seated next to me, "Where is the conductor? Has he said anything to us from the outside? Isn't someone able to take control and get us organized? Isn't there a ladder or something to help us get out?" I looked at my watch. It was about 4:40 p.m.
Shortly afterward, some people were outside in the tunnel, saying something to us. People shouted out the window that we had critically injured passengers in the car. In a few minutes a man in plain clothes came in and identified himself as a police officer. He checked the people who were pinned and told the man in agony that help was on the way. He told us they were trying to figure out how to evacuate us, and he went to leave.
People didn't want him to go. He was our only contact with the outside world.
Firemen arrived about 20 minutes to half an hour after the accident. They began taking people off the car, one by one, through popped door windows and a half-opened doorway. They looked us over briefly and asked each of us if we were okay.
I need scarcely say that those of us who walked out of that tunnel -- past a a large arching cable that gave off bright bursts of light and a boom which sounded like an echoing backfire -- were simply happy to be in one piece. As I walked, I waited for a friend who had been with me in the car to catch up. Her face was a welcome sight in the nightmare.
Under the circumstances, the terrified people in that cavern beneath the capital, I think, behaved admirably. I am not suggesting that any of us were heroes or heroines, as there were in the horror taking place at the same time in the icy Potomac. We were just decent people who behaved as decent people.