NTSB: Engineer Hit Brake as Amtrak Train Went 106 MPH - NBC New York
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NTSB: Engineer Hit Brake as Amtrak Train Went 106 MPH

Seven people were killed and more than 200 people were hospitalized after Amtrak train 188 derailed near Philadelphia Tuesday night.

The investigation into why the Amtrak train was speeding around the curve in Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood focuses on the engineer. NBC10's George Spencer looks at the possible reasons for his actions. (Published Thursday, May 14, 2015)

An Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night was traveling at 106 miles per hour along a sharp curve where the speed limit is 50 mph, when the engineer slammed on the emergency brake, moments before the train hurled off the tracks, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 200, the NTSB said Wednesday.

When the engineer applied the emergency brakes he managed to slow the train to only 102 mph by the time the locomotive's black box stopped recording data, said NTSB's Robert Sumwalt. The speed limit just before the curve is 80 mph, he said.

Sumwalt said the speed estimates were based on preliminary reports, though officials are confident the actual speed of the train at the time was close to the initial report.

"Our mission is to find out not only what happened but why it happened, so that we can prevent it from happening again," Sumwalt said.

NBC News confirmed Wednesday afternoon the engineer was identified as 32-year-old Brandon Bostian of Queens, New York.. Sumwalt said investigators hope to speak with him but want to give him a day or two to recover from the "traumatic event."

Bostian was released from the hospital Wednesday and was interviewed by police. Investigators say he handed over his cellphone to East Detectives and gave a blood sample. Police also expect to conduct another interview with him in the future. Philadelphia Police Lieutenant John Stanford said no one has been named a suspect in the crash at this point. 

Brandon Bostian

The Amtrak Regional 188 Train from Washington, D.C., had arrived at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia at 9:10 p.m. Tuesday and was continuing towards its destination of Penn Station in New York City. There were 238 passengers and five crew members on board.

At 9:21 p.m. the entire train derailed while it was traveling through a left hand turn near Wheatsheaf Lane in Port Richmond.

According to Sumwalt, the accident could have been prevented if an advanced system had been installed at the site of the crash. 
"Amtrak has a system called advanced civil speed enforcement, which is installed in many Amtrak lines," he said. "It is not installed in this area of the Amtrak lines. We have called for positive train controls for many years. We are keen on positive train control. Had this system been installed the accident would not have happened." 
The new information comes as a "very, very active" search for answers — and possible victims — continues. 

Two sources, who are close to the investigation, told NBC News the information that the train was traveling over 100 mph came from the train's event recorder, or black box. NTSB officials later confirmed the report. 

The black box was found as officials began the tedious job of combing through the twisted metal and debris of the Amtrak Regional 188 train. 

Six cars and the train's engine abruptly snapped off the tracks near Wheatsheaf Lane in Port Richmond sending riders and luggage flying. Passengers were forced to climb out of the windows of the overturned cars, some of which were "destroyed completed." More than 200 people were hospitalized.

NBC10 obtained grainy security camera footage of the derailment from a building across from the train tracks. The video's time is stamped at 9:21 p.m. as the train approaches a curve. The footage shows the train speed by and then bright flashes in the sky a few seconds later. From another angle you can also see what appears to be an explosion as the train derails and crashes into the ground. 

The search for survivors remained "very, very active," said Nutter after touring the site again Wednesday afternoon with Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey, Jr. and Pat Toomey who offered condolences to families of the victims as well as government support.

"I've never seen anything so devastating," Philadelphia Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Jesse Wilson said. "They're in pretty bad shape. You can see that they're completely, completely derailed from the track."

Heavy machinery, including cranes, were being used to clear debris Wednesday, shortly after the National Transportation Safety Board officials arrived to begin their investigation. Seven NTSB members were at the scene Wednesday morning, and more arrived later in the day. They looked at the track itself, the train signals, the mechanical condition of the train and human performance. Three of the train cars were removed and taken to a dirt area about 100 yards away from the tracks. 

The locomotive and all but two of the train's passenger cars are being moved to a secure location for further examination and documentation. 

Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony Coscia on Wednesday reiterated its commitment to investigating the incident and to supporting passenger and employees impacted. "This is the Amtrak family," he said. "We are very saddened by what has occurred."

Sumwalt said investigators will likely remain at the scene for at least a week.

"Our mission is to find out not only what happened but why it happened so that we can prevent it from happening again," he said. "We're not here on scene to determine the cause of the accident. We're not going to speculate. Our purpose for being here is to collect perishable evidence which is information that will go away with the passage of time." 

Service on the nation's busiest rail corridor between New York and Washington remained suspended Wednesday. On Thursday modified Amtrak service with fewer frequencies than normal will be provided between Washington and Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Philadelphia and New York and Boston. There will be no Amtrak service between New York and Philadelphia but New Jersey Transit will honor Amtrak tickets between New York City and Trenton. 

Officials say the majority of the crew and passengers were located though they are still checking to make sure everyone is accounted for. Officials are trying to match Amtrak's passenger manifest with patient information from area hospitals. Officials urge anyone who was on the train and is safe to alert them of their status. 

Passengers and witnesses described a chaotic, smoke-filled scene after the crash, which sparked a 4-alarm response from Philadelphia fire and police.

"People were thrown to the ground," said Max Helfman, a New Jersey teen who was on the train with his mother when the crash occurred. "Chairs inside the train became unscrewed and suitcases were falling on people. My mother flew into me and I literally had to catch her. People were bleeding from their head. It was awful."

Yameen Allworld, a Philadelphia music producer who has worked with the Roots, was on the train and posted a video on Instagram. In the video passengers could be heard crying and crawling through the sideways car.

"It wobbled at first and then went off the tracks," said Patrick Murphy, a former congressman from Pennsylvania's 8th District and Iraq War veteran who was in the cafe car when the train crashed. "There were some pretty banged-up people. One guy next to me was passed out. We kicked out the window in the top of the train car and helped get everyone out."

Former Congressman Speaks on Deadly DerailmentFormer Congressman Speaks on Deadly Derailment

Former congressman Patrick Murphy was onboard the Amtrak train during the deadly derailment in Philly. Murphy spoke to NBC10 about what he saw immediately after the crash.
(Published Wednesday, May 13, 2015)

The death toll rose to eight Thursday when another victim was found inside the wreckage. Some people hospitalized remain in critical condition. 

Next of kin were being notified by the Medical Examiner's office.

Family members confirmed Rachel Jacobs, the CEO of a Philadelphia tech company, was killed in the derailment.

The U.S. Naval Academy confirmed Wednesday one of the dead was Midshipman 3rd Class Justin Zemser, 20, of Rockaway Beach, New York. Zemser was on leave and on the way to his hometown when the accident occurred, the academy said in a statement.

Jim Gaines, a video software engineer for The Associated Press was also among the dead, the news agency said. The 48-year-old father of two had attended meetings in Washington and was returning home to Plainsboro, New Jersey when the train derailed. 

The Wells Fargo Communications Department also confirmed one of their employees, Abid Gilani, was among the deceased victims.

Jamilah Fraser, the Assistant Vice President for Communications & Public Relations at Medgar Evers College also confirmed with NBC News that Derrick Griffith, the acting dean of students at the college, died in the crash. 

Another passenger, Bob Gildersleeve, is also missing. His family passed out flyers urging anyone who knows his whereabouts to call them or Philadelphia Police. 

Photo credit: Family Photo

The derailment occurred at almost the exact same location of another deadly derailment 71 years ago. On Sept. 6, 1943, a Congressional Limited careened off the tracks with 541 passengers onboard, including many service members on leave. Seventy-nine passengers were killed and 117 were injured.

Officials say they don't believe the incident was an act of terror and preliminary information indicates it was an accident. In addition to the NTSB team, the Federal Railroad Administration said it was dispatching at least eight investigators to the scene.

NOTE: Those trying to contact passengers on the train should call the Amtrak Hotline at 1-800-523-9101. Passengers who were on the train and are doing well should also call the hotline to report their status.

 

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