At least three people died and multiple passengers were injured after an Amtrak train carrying more than 200 people derailed Monday in rural Missouri, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Highway patrol officials said investigators were working to determine how many people were onboard. The National Transportation Safety Board said preliminary information indicates 243 passengers and 12 crew members were onboard, although the agency is seeking the manifest from Amtrak.
The three deaths involved two people on the train and one in the dump truck, said Cpl. Justin Dunn of the highway patrol.
Dunn didn’t specify the number of injured passengers. University of Missouri Health Care in Columbia tweeted that it had accepted nine patients.
Eight medical transport helicopters responded to the scene, said Matt Daugherty, director of business development at LifeFlight Eagle, an air ambulance company based in Kansas City, Mo. He said the helicopters are bringing patients to trauma centers in Kansas City and Columbia, Mo.
“They’ve instituted a mass casualty response plan,” Daugherty said.
The train had eight cars, including a baggage car, Dunn said. Seven cars of the Southwest Chief train went off the tracks, according to investigators.
The dump truck was in an uncontrolled railroad crossing at a rural intersection when it was struck. Dunn said there were no crossbars or crossing lights there.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday evening it is launching a 16-member team to investigate the derailment. The agency said investigators will arrive at the scene Tuesday.
“This is the beginning of a lengthy investigation,” said Lt. Eric Brown of the highway patrol. “We have a lot more information we are seeking and need to obtain.”
Dax McDonald, a software engineer from Phoenix, said he was riding in the second-to-last car when he heard a massive bang and lurched forward.
“It’s horrifying,” he said. “The real insanity happened a second after that. You could see it start to tip.”
The train fell onto its right side, throwing passengers, including his two sisters, in his direction.
“I basically looked over to see them careening toward me,” he said.
Amid the broken glass and gravel from the tracks, he said, he and others helped a woman who was having a seizure after hitting her head, one of the many serious injuries reported among those on the train. McDonald and his sisters began trying to climb out the train’s windows above them.
“It turns into a giant trap. You have to be able to climb, like rock-climbing,” he said.
His mother, who had joined the three siblings for what was supposed to be a trip from Flagstaff, Ariz., to Fort Madison, Iowa, for a family Fourth of July celebration, was in the bathroom when the train fell on its side. She had to climb on suitcases to get out.
One of McDonald’s sisters was being taken to a hospital to check for a concussion, and other injured passengers on stretchers were being taken to a high school, he said.
McDonald said he recalls seeing two trucks through windows on the right side of the train. He said he remembered thinking of one of the truck’s drivers, “This guy better slow down.”
It had been McDonald’s idea to take the train. Given high fuel prices, it was cheaper than flying, and he said he thought it would be a chance to spend time as a family.
“I thought it would be very safe. It’s a train,” he said. “Now I don’t think I’d ever take a train again.”
Missouri state Rep. Peggy McGaugh (R) said more than 100 of the passengers were taken to a triage point at Northwestern High School in Mendon, population 271, where dozens of people showed up with food, water and offers of help for the derailment survivors.
“This is the most exciting thing that’s happened in this town in years,” McGaugh said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.”
Most of those who were injured and bused to the school had minor injuries, including contusions, cuts and abrasions, she said.
The main worry was how the small community could help house any passengers who stayed overnight, McGaugh said, because there are so few hotels in the area.
Mitchell Rice, a representative of U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R), said it was heartening to see the volunteers who immediately showed up to help. Graves is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“It’s a very chaotic situation, and it’s heartbreaking to see those injured, but there has been an area-wide showing of love and support,” said Rice, who was at the school.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, which is embarking on an effort to increase passenger train travel nationwide as part of the infrastructure law passed last year, said it is taking part in the investigation. Personnel from the department’s Federal Railroad Administration are headed to Mendon to support NTSB investigators, according to the rail agency.
The Missouri collision was the second involving an Amtrak train in two days. On Sunday afternoon, three people were killed when the sedan they were riding in tried to cross in front of an Amtrak train about 20 miles west of Stockton, Calif., officials said.
Two others in the car, including a child, were hospitalized with serious injuries, said Steve Aubert, fire marshal with the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
“It’s an unmarked, no-signal crossing, with signs that just say, ‘Hey, beware of fast-moving trains coming,’ ” Aubert said.
Trains are allowed to travel up to 80 mph in that rural section of unincorporated Brentwood, Aubert said. Rescue crews respond to collisions, usually involving agricultural vehicles, at the crossing once or twice a year, he said, although he said he does not recall a fatality in that spot in his 14 years on the job.
Less than a year ago, an Amtrak train left the tracks in rural Montana in an incident that killed three people and injured 44.
The Empire Builder train traveling from Chicago to Seattle derailed Sept. 25. Eight of the 10 train cars — with 154 people aboard — went off the tracks about 4 p.m. local time near Joplin, about 200 miles north of Helena, Mont.
That incident occurred less than four years after an Amtrak derailment in Washington state that killed three passengers and injured 65.
Amtrak said it has sent emergency workers to support passengers and employees in the Missouri incident. The railroad said friends and family members can call 800-523-9101 to check on loved ones aboard the train.