“I Was in Complete Shock”: Passengers Describe Amtrak Crash That Killed 6, Injured 140

Passengers on the New York City-bound train that derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday evening, killing at least seven people and injuring more than 200 others, described a chaotic and bloody scene after seven of the train’s 10 cars flipped over and became mangled on the tracks.

Max Helfman, a 19-year-old teen from Watchung, New Jersey, was on the last car of the Amtrak train and made it out with just a few scratches, but he told NBC News his mother may have broken some of her ribs after being flung from her seat.

"My mother flew and I literally had to catch her," Helfman said.

Helfman, a freshman at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said people were thrown to the ground, chairs inside the train became unscrewed and suitcases fell onto passengers as the car flipped over. He said the car started to fill with smoke as injured passengers tried to escape. A door was slightly open, so passengers helped each other squeeze through it, fearing the train might explode.

“People were bleeding from their head, it was awful,” Helfman said.

Responding police officers helped passengers in his car out through a back door, making sure everyone was away from the tracks where there may have been fallen wires.

Those who were uninjured were taken by bus to an elementary school, where Helfman waited for his father to pick him up.

"I'm scratched and may have a concussion," Helfman told NBC News. "I'm still shocked this even happened."

Gaby Rudy, an 18-year-old from Livingston, New Jersey, was headed home from George Washington University at the time of the derailment. She said she was nearly asleep when she suddenly felt the train "fall off the track."

The next few minutes were filled with broken glass and smoke, said Rudy, who suffered minor injuries. "They told us we had to run away from the train in case another train came," she said.

NBC Nightly News producer Janelle Richards was on board the train in the last car, and heard a loud crash, and then people flew up in their seats.

"I was in complete shock," she told NBC 4 New York's Chuck Scarborough and Sibila Vargas in a phone interview during News 4 at 11 p.m. Tuesday. "And the train started to fill with smoke and I looked to my left and there was a woman in the aisle with blood coming down her face. And after a second, myself and other people just started asking, 'How do we get off the train? How do we get off the train?'"

Richards said the passengers in her car were able to get out through a back exit, which someone had pried open wide enough for people to climb through and emerge onto the ground.

As they got out of the train car, the passengers quickly retreated from the train tracks because they were afraid the overhead electrical poles would collapse inward, Richards said. They warned each other to "watch out for the wires, watch out for the wires" as they exited the train.

"I just remember looking up and seeing two large electric poles and they were leaning in, and I just kept thinking, 'Are these poles going to crash down on the train?'" she said.

"It was absolutely surreal," added Richards.

Richards spoke to NBC 4 New York from Hahnemann Hospital, where she said those who were able to walk off the train were waiting to speak to officials, and were "shocked and stunned."

"One woman I'm looking at now, her face is covered in what looks like ash, someone else is bleeding from the back of their head with blood on their button-down collared shirt," she said. "People are crying, they're in hysterics."

An Associated Press manager, Paul Cheung, was on the train and said he was watching Netflix when "the train started to decelerate, like someone had slammed the brake."

"Then suddenly you could see everything starting to shake," he said. "You could see people's stuff flying over me."

Cheung said another passenger urged him to escape from the back of his car, which he did. He said he saw passengers trying to escape through the windows of cars tipped on their sides.

"The front of the train is really mangled," he said. "It's a complete wreck. The whole thing is like a pile of metal."

Another passenger, Daniel Wetrin, was among more than a dozen people taken to a nearby elementary school afterward.

"I think the fact that I walked off (the train) kind of made it even more surreal because a lot of people didn't walk off," he said. "I walked off as if, like, I was in a movie. There were people standing around, people with bloody faces. There were people, chairs, tables mangled about in the compartment ... power cables all buckled down as you stepped off the train."

Area resident David Hernandez, whose home is close to the tracks, heard the derailment.

"It sounded like a bunch of shopping carts crashing into each other," he said.

The crunching sound lasted a few seconds, he said, and then there was chaos and screaming.

Although Tuesday's deadly Amtrak derailment happened in Philadelphia, officials think many passengers were New York and New Jersey residents, along with residents from Washington, D.C., where the train originated. Philadelphia Michael Nutter said he is working with Mayor de Blasio and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in the wake of the crash.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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