Spain train driver can't explain why he crashed

By Ciaran Giles And Barry Hatton

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Aug. 2 2013 8:55 a.m. MDT

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy listens the debate during a Spanish Parliament session in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. Rajoy brushed off demands he should resign after text messages emerged showing him comforting a former political party treasurer under investigation over a slush fund and secret Swiss bank accounts. The spectacle of alleged greed and corruption has enraged Spaniards hurting from austerity and sky high unemployment. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Associated Press

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MADRID — The driver of the train that derailed in northwestern Spain, killing 79 people, has said he was traveling at twice the speed limit when he approached a treacherous turn.

But, sitting uneasily before a judge, he waved his hands in front of his face and was at a loss to explain why he didn't slow down in a courtroom video released by a Spanish newspaper Thursday.

"I can't explain it," Francisco Jose Garzon Amo said, shifting in his chair and looking around. "I still don't understand how I didn't see ... mentally, or whatever. I just don't know."

The journey was "going fine" until the curve was upon him, he said. When the danger became clear, he thought, "Oh my God, the curve, the curve, the curve. I won't make it."

The edited video of Garzon's appearance at Sunday night's court session in Santiago de Compostela, where the accident occurred last week, was released by Spain's ABC newspaper. Two court officials said the video appeared authentic. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the video has not been officially released.

In it, Garzon, a slightly-built 52-year-old with short-cropped gray hair and glasses, appears shaken and at times hesitant. He sits in a simple chair in front of the judge, with four rows of chairs behind him in the small courtroom.

Garzon is wearing a dark jacket and trousers with an open-necked shirt. Behind him are two men in dark uniforms, and several other unidentified people are in the room. He also answers questions from a prosecutor.

Garzon's testimony added little new to what is already known about the crash on the evening of July 24 as the high-speed train, carrying 218 people in eight carriages, approached the capital of Spain's northwestern Galician region. But the video was the public's first look at the court testimony of the driver who walked away from the accident with a gash in his head.

ABC said its footage showed 18 minutes of excerpts from the full 55-minute session, accompanied by what it said was a transcript of the full session. The paper said it obtained a copy of the video that the court took of the session but has not made public.

The train had been going as fast as 119 mph shortly before the derailment.

The driver activated the brakes "seconds before the crash," reducing the speed to 95 mph, according to the court's preliminary findings based on black box data recorders. The speed limit on the section of track where the crash happened was 50 mph.

In his Sunday night testimony, Garzon said he was going far over the speed limit and ought to have started slowing down several miles (kilometers) before he reached the notorious curve.

Asked whether he ever hit the brakes, Garzon replied, "The electric one, the pneumatic one ... all of them. Listen, when ... but it was already inevitable."

His voice shakes, his sentences break down and he appears close to tears as he replies to a question about what was going through his mind when he went through the last tunnel before the curve.

"If I knew that I wouldn't think it because the burden that I am going to carry for the rest of my life is huge," he said. "And I just don't know. The only thing I know, your honor, sincerely, is that I don't know. I'm not so crazy that I wouldn't put the brakes on."

Garzon said that after the derailment he called central control in Madrid about the accident.

"At the speed I was going and the smashup, though I couldn't see what was behind me. I knew what I was up against and I knew it was inevitable that there was a calamity and so (I called Madrid) to activate the emergency protocol," he testified.

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