US train driver 'has no recollection of crash'

Robert Macpherson
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A crane clears wood beams from the track close to the wreckage of an Amtrak Northeast Regional Train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 13, 2015

A crane clears wood beams from the track close to the wreckage of an Amtrak Northeast Regional Train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

Philadelphia (AFP) - The engineer of a US passenger train that derailed while traveling at twice the speed limit has no recollection of the accident that left seven dead, his lawyer said.

The engineer has been identified in US media as Brandon Bostian, a 32-year-old New Yorker.

His attorney Robert Goggin told ABC News Wednesday night that Bostian had no explanation for the crash and no recollection of it either.

Bostian has provided a blood sample, turned over his cell phone and is cooperating with authorities, Goggin said, according to ABC.

Bostian just remembers driving the train to the crash area and later getting "tossed around," ABC said. He found his cell phone and called an emergency rescue number, Goggin said.

Bostian suffered a concussion and a head wound that required 14 staples. He also suffered injuries to his legs, Goggin said.

Investigators say the train was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour when the engineer slammed on the emergency brakes just before it derailed in Philadelphia.

The speed was more than twice the approved limit, and the brakes barely slowed the train before the cars tumbled off the track. Besides the fatalities, more than 200 people were injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board cautioned that its first assessment of the data was preliminary, and that it would need more time to piece together what happened to Amtrak Train 188, headed from Washington to New York.

The initial information came in part from the train's "black box" data recorders.

"Our mission is to find out not only what happened, but why it happened, so that we can prevent it from happening again," the NTSB's Robert Sumwalt told reporters, saying his team would be on the ground for a week.

The engineer's "full emergency brake application" only slowed the train speed from 106 miles (170 kilometers) per hour to 102 mph, Sumwalt said, noting: "It takes a long time and distance to decelerate a train."

The speed limit entering the curve was just 50 miles per hour.

He said a speed control system used along Amtrak's well-traveled Northeast Corridor between Washington and New York was not yet in place in the area of the crash.

"We feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred," he said.


- Harrowing accounts -

Officials warned some of the 243 passengers and crew listed on the train's manifest -- many of whom limped away from the wreck bloodied and dazed -- had not yet been accounted for, meaning the death toll could still rise.

They encouraged anyone who may have left the scene without being counted to contact Amtrak.

Witnesses described scenes of panic and chaos, as train cars tumbled over, sending passengers banging into one another and luggage flying.

One car was completely flattened in the crash, which took place at about 9:30 pm Tuesday (0130 GMT Wednesday). 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.

Philadelphia resident Scott Lauman described a horrendous scene at the crash site, telling AFP: "It look like a bomb went off."

"I really don't understand how there are only seven people dead. From what I saw, the first three cars were done. I don't know how only seven people were killed. Praise the Lord," he said.


- 'It was awful' -

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 aboard the train.