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80 dead in Spain train derailment; video shows moment of crash

By Hernan Munoz

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, July 25 2013 2:00 p.m. MDT

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. A train derailed in northwestern Spain on Wednesday night, toppling passenger cars on their sides and leaving at least one torn open as smoke rose into the air. Dozens were feared dead, with possibly even more injured.

Antonio Hernandez, AP Photo/ El correo Gallego

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — A Spanish train that hurtled off the rails and smashed into a security wall as it rounded a bend was going so fast that carriages tumbled off the tracks like dominos, killing 80 people and maiming dozens more, according to eyewitness accounts and video footage obtained Thursday.

An Associated Press analysis of video images suggests the train may have been traveling at twice the speed limit, or more, along that curved stretch of track. The unanswered question is: Why?

Spain's government said two probes have been launched into the train's derailment Wednesday night on its approach to this Christian festival city in northwest Spain, where planned celebrations in honor of one of Jesus' disciples gave way to a living nightmare.

The regional government in Galicia confirmed that police planned to question the 52-year-old train driver, in Santiago de Compostela's main hospital with unspecified injuries, as both a witness and as a possible suspect, but cautioned that possible faults in safety equipment were also being investigated.

The Interior Ministry raised the death toll to 80 in what was Spain's deadliest train wreck in four decades. The Galician government said 94 others remained hospitalized in six regional hospitals, 31 of them — including four children — in critical condition.

The U.S. State Department said one American was killed in the crash and five others were injured. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said those numbers were "likely to change" and declined to elaborate.

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

In the morning, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a native of Santiago de Compostela, toured the crash scene alongside rescue workers and went to a nearby hospital to visit those wounded and their families. In the evening Spain's head of state, King Carlos, and Queen Sofia went to the same hospital, dressed in funereal black.

"For a native of Santiago, like me, this is the saddest day," said Rajoy, who declared Spain would observe a three-day period of mourning. He said judicial authorities and the Public Works Ministry had launched parallel investigations into what caused the crash.

Eyewitness accounts backed by security-camera footage of the moment of disaster suggested that the eight-carriage train was going too fast as it tried to turn left underneath a road bridge. The train company Renfe said 218 passengers and five crew members were on board. Spanish officials said the speed limit on that section of track is 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour.

An Associated Press estimate of the train's speed at the moment of impact using the time stamp of the video and the estimated distance between two pylons gives a range of 144-192 kph (89-119 mph). Another estimate calculated on the basis of the typical distance between railroad ties gives a range of 156-182 kph (96-112 mph).

The video footage, which the Spanish railway authority Adif said probably came from one of its cameras, shows the train carriages starting to buckle soon into the turn.

Murray Hughes, consultant editor of Railway Gazette International, said it appeared that a diesel-powered unit behind the lead locomotive was the first to derail. The front engine itself quickly followed, violently tipping on to its right side as it crashed into a concrete security wall and bulldozed along the ground.

In the background, all the rear carriages could be seen starting to decouple and come off the tracks. The picture went blank as the engine appeared to crash directly into the camera.

After impact, witnesses said a fire engulfed passengers trapped in at least one carriage, most likely driven by ruptured tanks of diesel fuel carried in the forward engines.

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