PHILADELPHIA, United States — A U.S. passenger train was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour — twice the speed limit — when it derailed in Philadelphia, investigators said Wednesday, as the death toll from the crash rose to seven.
The National Transportation Safety Board‘s first assessment of the data came as experts combed through the twisted train cars for more clues about how Tuesday night’s wreck occurred.
More than 200 people were injured in the crash, which took place along the busy northeast U.S. rail corridor linking Washington and New York, one of the most traveled in the Amtrak network.
Officials warned some of the 243 passengers and crew believed to have been on the train — many of whom limped away from the wreck bloodied and dazed — had not yet been accounted for, meaning the death toll could still rise.
The train’s “black box” was recovered and sent for analysis, hopefully yielding key information about what went wrong.
“NTSB confirms preliminary data shows #Amtrak train speed exceeded 100 mph prior to derailment. Further calibrations are being conducted,” the agency said on Twitter.
A spokesman for the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration told AFP the speed limit in the curve was just 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour.
The NTSB said more information would be given at a press conference this evening.
“We’ll get to the bottom of it and figure out what happened, why it happened, but that will take some time,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters.
Broken ribs, collapsed lungs
Sam Phillips, the city’s director of emergency management, said the city’s hospitals had treated “over 200 patients last night and this morning.”
Herbert Cushing, the chief medical officer at Temple University Hospital, said some of those most seriously injured suffered rib fractures or collapsed lungs. Some of the victims hailed from Spain, Belgium, Germany and India.
Reportedly among the dead were a staffer for the Associated Press and a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, according to the AP and The Washington Post.
Witnesses who had been traveling aboard Amtrak Train 188 described scenes of panic and chaos, as cars tumbled over, sending passengers banging into one another and luggage flying.
One of the train cars was completely flattened in the crash, which took place at about 9:30 pm Tuesday. Wheels lay scattered by the tracks.
Local resident Iwina Washington, 27, told AFP she saw shell-shocked survivors with blood on their faces, looking confused, as rescue personnel converged on the scene.
“It looked like an episode from ‘The Walking Dead’,” Washington said.
Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB said investigators were looking at “the track, the rail signals, the operation of the train, the mechanical condition of the train (and) human performance.”
The train’s engineer was injured but was treated and able to give a statement to police, Nutter told reporters. The conductor was also injured.
‘It was awful’
Officials were still working to reconcile the passenger manifest with the lists of injured, and encouraged anyone who may have left the scene without being counted to contact Amtrak.
Max Helfman, 19, said he was with his mother in the last car of the train, which did not have seatbelts, when they suddenly felt it shake. It then flipped over.
“People were thrown to the ground,” Helfman told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Chairs inside the train became unscrewed and suitcases were falling on people. My mother flew into me and I literally had to catch her. People were bleeding from their head. It was awful.”
Hydraulic tools had to be used to remove passengers from some of the most badly damaged train cars, firefighters said.
Other passengers had to kick out windows to escape, according to former Pennsylvania congressman Patrick Murphy, who was onboard.
Train services between Philadelphia and New York were likely to be suspended for the rest of the week, Nutter said.
“This is a tragedy that touches us all,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.