Amtrak train derailment survivor: ‘I don’t know if luck had anything to do with it’


PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. (KOIN) — “We were lucky to be getting out of here alive. Well then I decided we were fortunate, not lucky. I don’t know if luck had anything to do with it.”

Charlie & Beverly Heebner survived the Amtrak train crash on Monday.

‘You know, it was like be inside of an exploding bomb.”

“We said, this is the first run, we’re going to ride that first run,” he says.

The train was making the inaugural run on the new route as part of a $180.7 million project designed to speed up service by removing passenger trains from a route along Puget Sound that’s bogged down by curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic.

The Amtrak Cascades service that runs from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon, is jointly owned by the Washington and Oregon transportation departments. Amtrak operates the service for the two states as a contractor and is responsible for day-to-day operations.

The Amtrak schedule called for the train to leave Seattle around 6 a.m. and arrive in Portland about 3 1/2 hours later.

“All of sudden it’s just crash and there I was down and the train went like this,” Beverly says. “It was this body lying there. I mean, it was, he hardly had any clothes on. The clothes had just been ripped off him and he was obviously dead.”

“We were lucky to be getting out of here alive. Well then I decided we were fortunate, not lucky. I don’t know if luck had anything to do with it,” Charlie says.Passengers, witnesses, helpers

Aleksander Kristiansen, a 24-year-old exchange student at the University of Washington from Copenhagen, was going to Portland to visit the city for the day.

“I was just coming out of the bathroom when the accident happened. My car just started shaking really, really badly. Things were falling off the shelf. Right away, you knew that this was not something minor,” he said.

The back of his train car was wide open because it had separated from the rest of the train, so he and others were able to jump out to safety. He was at about the middle of the train, either the sixth or seventh car, he said, and was “one of the lucky ones.”

Emma Schafer was headed home to Vancouver, Washington, on winter break from the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and was napping when the crash occurred.

She awoke to find her body at a 45-degree angle and her train car dangling from the overpass. Someone behind her was pinned by the legs, she said, and she and others who could walk exited the train by crawling onto a car underneath theirs that had been crushed.

“It felt oddly silent after the actual crashing. There was a lot of metal, a lot of screeching, a lot of being thrown around. It was very quiet. Then there was people screaming,” Schafer said.

“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.’”

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