Sunday 18 February 2018

'I was going at 190kmh – I hope no one died'

Driver to be questioned by police after more than 80 killed in crash

Fiona Govan in Santiago de Compostela

One of the train drivers at the centre of Spain's worst rail disaster for almost 70 years was in police custody and is to be questioned today after reports suggested he had been travelling at more than twice the speed limit in the moments before the crash.

Francisco Jose Garzon de Amo (52), was placed under investigation after surviving an accident that killed at least 80 people and injured 130 more, 36 of them seriously.

This morning the driver of a Spanish train that derailed, killing at least 80 people, was under police guard in hospital this morning after the accident, which an official source said was caused by excessive speed.

Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore said there was "no indication of Irish involvement" in terms of casualties. He expressed his deepest sympathies to the families of those killed and to those who were injured in the derailment.

It emerged that Mr Garzon, a driver with 30 years' experience, had allegedly boasted previously on his Facebook page about driving trains over the speed limit.

In one posting published by Spanish media, he is alleged to have said: "It would be amazing to go alongside police and overtake them and trigger off the speed camera."

A relative of passengers involved in a train crash talks on her mobile phone, as she waits for news at the Cersia Building
An aerial view of the crash near Santiago de Compostela
Click to see a bigger version of the graphic

The comments were posted beneath a photograph of a train's speedometer clocking 200kmh and continue: "Ha ha ha, that would be a lovely fine for Renfe (the state-owned train company)."

Mr Garzon was one of two drivers said to have been at the controls on Wednesday evening when the express service from Madrid to the port city of Ferrol in north-western Spain derailed close to the city of Santiago de Compostela, leaving a scene of devastation and carriages strewn across the line.

The speed limit on that section was supposed to be 80kmh. But in the moments after the crash, one of the drivers made a panicked call to rail officials, admitting that the train had been travelling at more than double that.

"I was going at 190kmh! I hope no one died because it will weigh on my conscience," the train driver is reported to have said, adding: "We're only human! We're only human!"


The crash occurred near the city's main station

View Santiago de Compostela train crash in a larger map


It was not immediately clear which of the two drivers, both of whom escaped with light injuries, made the confession because they did not identify themselves to officials.

A second probe launched into the catastrophe will look at the train's in-built speed regulation systems.

It was not clear what kind of injuries the driver had suffered. He was not arrested, but he was under a police guard at the hospital and was expected to be questioned on Friday.

State train company Renfe said the driver was a 30-year veteran of the firm with more than a decade of train driving experience. He had been driving trains on this line for about a year, the firm said.

The train was reportedly running three minutes late when it careered off the tracks. In Spain, passengers are entitled to a reimbursement of 25pc of their ticket for delays of more than 20 minutes.

Dramatic CCTV video revealed the moment at 8.40pm when the train hurtled round a bend and suddenly jumped the tracks, sending carriages flying through the air and leaving a scene that some witnesses described as being "like Hell".

The footage showed the train flying off the tracks and slamming into a wall. Three days of national mourning have been declared in Spain.

"It was like a huge bomb had gone off or an earthquake," one resident told local television.

Rescuers fought for hours to release survivors and collect the dead trapped within the twisted wreckage. Corpses were lined up on the ground and covered with blankets as the walking wounded emerging dazed from the accident.

Authorities said 80 of the 218 passengers were confirmed to have died in the accident, including a baby. The regional government said 95 people were still in hospital, 33 of them, including four children, in a serious condition. Medical experts were still trying to identify 13 of the bodies early this morning, leaving distraught families to wait for definitive news.

The regional government in Galicia said it had so far only been able to confirm the identities of 67 bodies.

The authorities were still working to identify the other 13.

DNA tests are expected to be carried out on those with catastrophic injuries to identify them, with results available in the coming days.

A US woman killed in the wreck has been named by Catholic Church officials in America as Ana Maria Cordoba, an employee of a diocese near Washington DC, the Associated Press reported.

Ms Cordoba's husband and daughter were injured in the disaster as the family travelled to visit her son who had completed a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the Catholic News Service reported.

President Barack Obama said in a statement: "Today the American people grieve with our Spanish friends, who are in our thoughts and prayers."

Many of those on the train would have been pilgrims travelling to Santiago's St James' Day festivities, which celebrate the disciple of Jesus whose remains are said to rest in a shrine.

Visiting the hospital in Santiago where most of the wounded are being treated, King Juan Carlos said: "All I can say is that all Spaniards are united in this moment and we are with the victims, with the families and with the friends of the victims."


Jaime Tizon, a firefighter who was one of the first to arrive at the scene, said: "I'm coming from Hell. I couldn't tell you if it was the engine on fire or one of the carriages or what."

The bodies were transferred to a makeshift morgue at a municipal building on the outskirts of the city. Hundreds of relatives gathered there to identify their loved ones.

Some of the bodies were described as "disfigured beyond recognition" and authorities said DNA testing would be required before they could be named.

Investigators hope to determine whether human error or a signalling fault was to blame for the disaster.

"The tragedy seems to be linked to excessive speed but we are still waiting on the judicial investigation and the one carried out by a commission from our own ministry," said transport minister Rafael Catala. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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