Scene of train crash like 'living hell:' Red Cross rescuer

04/02/2021 09:53 PM
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CNA photo April 2, 2021
CNA photo April 2, 2021

Update: Crane truck fell onto track within 15 mins before train passes: MOTC (April 3)

Taipei, April 2 (CNA) A rescuer from Taiwan's Red Cross Society could not believe the carnage he saw at the scene of a train crash in Hualien County on Friday morning, recalling the sight of scattered body parts and sounds of people crying in a crumpled train carriage.

"It was a living hell," said Lin Chi-feng (林啟豐), who led an 11-member rescue team that was one of the first to arrive at the crash scene at 11:03 a.m., carrying rescue and demolition gear.

The fatal accident occurred at 9:28 a.m. as a Taroko express train crashed in the Qingshui Tunnel after slamming into a crane truck near the tunnel's entrance.

The truck had been parked on a hill above the track, but slid down the hill for an unknown reason and fell onto the track, according to police.

The first five carriages of the eight-car train, which was carrying nearly 500 passengers, lost control and piled up inside the narrow, single-track tunnel. At least 50 people have been confirmed dead as of 9 p.m., official data showed.

Photo courtesy of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
Photo courtesy of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
Photo courtesy of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
Photo courtesy of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China (Taiwan)

Lin told CNA that upon his arrival at the scene, he saw several carriages badly twisted in the tunnel, with some of them ripped apart, and he knew he had to get into the damaged cars as soon as possible to get the injured out.

The twisted carriages were tilted against the tunnel's walls, he recalled, but it was the devastation inside that left him in shock.

"Chairs were mangled, objects were scattered all over the floor, and blood was everywhere," he said.

Friday evening. Video courtesy of a private contributor

Because the power was cut, the insides of the cars were extremely stuffy, and dead bodies and body parts were everywhere, Lin recalled.

He and his fellow rescuers could only identify the injured by tracking sounds of people crying or sobbing. Though most of the injured suffered severe bone fractures, the rescuers were able to either carry them on their back or in their arms, Lin said.

Only after all of the injured were removed from the carriages stuck in the tunnel did the rescuers start pulling the dead from the wreckage, Lin said.

"It was heartbreaking to see so many children and infants die in the accident," he said.

Photo courtesy of the New Taipei City Fire Department
Photo courtesy of the New Taipei City Fire Department

One of the passengers, surnamed Wu (吳), who was riding in the train's second carriage, corroborated Lin's account.

He said the train went pitch dark after the accident, and "about an hour later, someone guided us down the train. When we passed through [the third carriage from the front], I couldn't bear to look because there were bodies everywhere," Wu said.

The driver of the ill-fated train, identified as 33-year-old Yuan Chun-hsiu (袁淳修), was killed in the crash as the front car was completely destroyed.

Yuan activated the emergency brake before he died, according to the conductor of the No. 408 Taroko train, surnamed Lee (李).

Lee, who was in the last of the train's eight cars, said that after the emergency brake was hit, he felt a collision that caused the carriage to vibrate violently.

After he got off the train, he saw many carriages piled up against each other and stuck in the tunnel, and firefighters at the scene later told him that the front car was destroyed and the driver was missing.

By the time Yuan was found, he showed no signs of life, Lee said.

Photo taken on the train
Photo taken on the train

Many colleagues were saddened by Yuan's death, said Chang Shuan-hua (張栓華), an executive member of the Taiwan Railway Labor Union.

He told CNA that Yuan, born in 1988, passed the Taiwan Railway Administration's recruitment examination in 2016, and began to drive trains a year later.

Yuan got married in 2019, Chang said, but the young couple did not have any children.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan, Wu Hsin-yun and Elizabeth Hsu)

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