Spanish police investigate driver of derailed train

Reuters, SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 - Page 1

Police put the driver of a Spanish train under investigation yesterday after at least 78 people died when it hit a sharp bend at speed and derailed near the northern city of Santiago de Compostela, in one of Europe’s worst rail disasters.

Dramatic video footage from a security camera published on the Web site of El Pais newspaper showed the train careering into a wall at the side of the track as it came off the rails on the bend on Wednesday night.

Police had put the train driver under formal investigation, a spokeswoman for Galicia’s Supreme Court said, without naming him.

The Galicia government said the train had two drivers and one was in hospital, but it was not immediately clear which driver was under investigation.

Newspaper reports cited witnesses as saying driver Francisco Jose Garzon,who helped rescue victims, had shouted: “I’ve derailed! What do I do?” into a cellphone.

El Pais said one of the drivers was trapped in his cabin and told the railway station by radio that the train entered the bend at 190kph.

“We’re only human! We’re only human!” he told the station, the newspaper said. “I hope there are no dead, because this will fall on my conscience.”

The disaster happened on the eve of a major religious festival in the ancient northwestern city, at 8:41pm on Wednesday. Officials said people of several nationalities were among the 130 injured, of whom 36, including four children, were in serious condition.

In what one local official described as a scene from hell, bodies covered in blankets lay strewn around the train track next to overturned carriages as smoke billowed from the wreckage and bloodied passengers staggered away.

Cranes were still pulling out mangled debris yesterday morning, 12 hours after the crash. Emergency workers had stopped their search for survivors.

One official source said speeding was a likely cause of the derailment, but the public works minister said it was too early to say exactly what had happened.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the Galicia region, visited the site and the main hospital yesterday. He declared three days of official national mourning for the victims of the disaster.