HOBOKEN, N.J. — Tom Spina was in Hoboken Terminal’s customer service office Thursday morning at around 8:45 planning to catch a train home. That’s when he heard a loud boom from the train crash that killed at least one person and wounded scores more.
“Things like this you see in movies. You don’t see things like this happen in real life,” he told reporters in Hoboken’s Pier A Park. “When you see something like that, my personal natural instinct is these people need help. There’s no one here yet.”
Rick Ciappa, a New Jersey Transit safety inspector, did not see the train crash. But he said everyone at Hoboken Terminal heard the horrible sound.
“You heard the impact and see other people running away from the action,” Ciappa told journalists a few blocks from the station. “I started running away from the action because, you know? But then I thought, ‘Would I go over and help, or am I going to get blown to smithereens myself?’”
He said he ran toward the platform and helped pull victims out of the rubble.
Ciappa has been with the mass transportation system for 34 years and is not sure what happened to cause the fatal crash. But he said that when he heard the loud noise, his mind immediately went to the possibility of terrorism — a concern that’s on his mind every day he goes to work at one of the busiest transportation hubs in the New York metropolitan area.
Slideshow: New Jersey Transit train crash in Hoboken >>>
Spina recalled how he rushed to the platform and found a man whose head was bleeding and who appeared to have an injured leg. He lifted the man up and helped him back inside. Once there, he grabbed paper towels from a food vendor and had the man apply pressure to his head wound. He then turned back around and looked for other people to help. But, he said, the emergency workers showed up very quickly.
“When people are in a daze, or they’re stunned and they don’t know what’s going on, or they can’t walk and they can’t get away from the area, you got to help those folks,” Spina said.
It seems unlikely that either Spina or Ciappa will forget the tremendous damage they witnessed.
“It crashed into the barricade on the fifth line. It just came in, and it appeared that it couldn’t stop, and it just made its way all the way to the end of the line,” Spina said of the train. “Part of the [terminal] roof collapsed; lighting went out. There was water running from pipes. There were wires hanging down. It was just a bad scene. Folks were just really running away that could, and the ones that couldn’t were trying to get out of the way. Those were the folks we were trying to help.”
Ciappa said: “This day and age, what do you think? You watch the news — where are the terrorists? Historic places and train stations. You know, I go to work in a train station every day. You think in the back of my mind I’m nervous? You know, every time somebody comes on a bike with a backpack, you jump.”
Hoboken resident Jason Willard had planned to spend his day off at home but felt a desire to help with the effort at Hoboken Terminal.
“I saw it on the news this morning, and it’s a terrible tragedy,” he told Yahoo News. “I came down here to help out. I’m home today so I figured I’d see [if I could]. Unfortunately, they have everything cordoned off.”
Willard has lived in Hoboken for eight years and Jersey City for three years before that. He has used the Port Authority Trans-Hudson line (commonly called the PATH) almost daily for 11 years. But he does not use NJ Transit nearly as often.
“It’s a very safe mode of transportation. I’m not so sure about NJ Transit. I rarely take it, but overall they are pretty on the ball with everything,” he said.
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Willard said, NJ Transit put in a lot of effort to update its equipment to make sure the trains were equipped with the latest safety technology — so the fatal crash came as a shock.
Other witnesses recall the train crash below: