It was a completely normal morning 24-year-old Daniel Konzelman as he drove to work with his girlfriend. Little did he know the horror that was about to confront him. Konzelman was one of the first on the scene of the horrific Amtrak crash that occurred in Washington state during rush hour on Monday.
“We saw the train pass us on the right. We came up to the bridge and didn’t have any clue about what was going on and why cars were stopping. Then I realized the train was hanging off the bridge, that’s not supposed to be like that,” Konzelman detailed, as reported by the Boston Herald.
Instinct kicked in. Daniel immediately jumped out of his car and rushed to the scene to help the injured. “I drove up an on-ramp and up onto the bluff,” he explained.
“I have a headlamp and work boots, I threw them on as fast as I could and bushwhacked down the bluff and we sprinted as fast as we could to the crash. I didn’t know what to expect or anything, people were down in the cars in shock and nobody was doing anything.”
The accident claimed the lives of three people, and officials have said some 72 people were taken to hospital. Daniel, who was trained in first aid, immediately began assessing and treating the wounded.
“I’m an Eagle Scout and have a lot of first-aid experience so I went from person to person and assessed them; if they were OK, we had people walk them down to the road,” he told the Boston Herald. “My girlfriend was there. She grew up in a family of nurses so she kept it cool; she knew what to do.”
He continued to describe the harrowing scene:
“I said, ‘All right, I’ve got to go into the train.’ I didn’t know what I was walking into. I climbed in one of the broken windows; that first one had no major injuries. Another car had a person who had a pretty major head injury.
I went down to other cars, two other guys were with me. We found a couple people who had head and neck and back injuries; we got them stabilized.
By that time an officer showed up. We cleared cars that were connected, then we went to one of the cars that was overturned. We found deceased people and pretty major injuries, people trapped under the train car.”
The scene was dramatic, with carriages sprawled across the tracks and hanging down onto the road.
“The car was completely upside-down and partly suspended in the air. I was hoping the train wouldn’t settle, wouldn’t crush the people working under it,” Daniel added.
“We got inside as much as we could. There were a couple parts where you see something and realize it’s a body part and it becomes really real. You feel like throwing up at this point, but you look away and put energy into comforting people who are still there.”
Preliminary investigations have shown that the train was traveling at 81 mph for a quarter of a mile before it reached curve with a 30 mph speed limit and derailed.
Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson had warned back in early December that the Department of Transportation needed to add more safety measures before launching the high-speed trains.
“Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements,’ he said, according to KOMO News. “Or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens.”
The Mayor added: “It’s virtually inevitable that someone is going to get killed that wouldn’t be killed otherwise. This is unacceptable.”
Emma Shafer was a passenger on the train. In an instant, she found herself at a 45-degree angle staring at the seats in front of her that had dislodged and swung around. She recalled the incident being almost surreal.
“It felt oddly silent after the actual crashing,” Shafer said, as reported by the Daily Mail. “Then there was people screaming because their leg was messed up … I don’t know if I actually heard the sirens, but they were there. A guy was like, ‘Hey, I’m Robert. We’ll get you out of here’.”
Daniel remembers the horrendous sounds coming from the crash site: “There were sounds coming from the wreckage; we couldn’t even see people. There was not a lot to do other than what you would want someone to do for you. I’d just want someone to be with me.”
“They were able to get three people still alive out, others were deceased, one was thrown from the car. The fire department took over; we let them do what they do.”
A number of fatal train crashes have plagued the United States in recent years. Back in 2015, a passenger train derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people. In 2013, four people lost their lives when the driver of a passenger train fell asleep and the train took a 30mph curve at 82mph and subsequently derailed.
In 2008, a commuter train collided with a freight train head-on, killing 25 people. It was later discovered that the driver, who was killed, had been texting just before the accident.
The call made from the crew of the Amtrak train to emergency services has been released. It is a chilling insight into the chaos and confusion of the moments following the freak accident:
CREW OF TRAIN: “Amtrak 501 emergency, emergency, emergency… we are on the ground (inaudible) We are on the bridge (inaudible) …on the freeway.”
“We need EMS ASAP. Looks like they are already starting to show up.”
OPERATOR: “Hey guys what happened?”
CREW OF TRAIN: “We were coming round the corner to take the bridge on the I5 and right there on the Nissqually we were on the ground.”
OPERATOR: “Are you… is everybody okay?”
CREW OF TRAIN: “I am still figuring that out… we’ve got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.”
The investigation into the incident continues.