Panic and terror coursed throughout the train that had been halted until it was rear-ended. Calm and confusion inside the car that was vaulted on top of the stopped train after failing to stop.
"Everyone was just shocked," Maya Maroto, who was riding the moving train and inside the car that went airborne, told CBS' The Early Show. Maroto called the collision a "severe impact," but added "we kept calm."
Next to her was Tijuana Cox, who was in the last car of the train hit. "Everyone was frantic," she said. "We could smell the smoke from the second train."
Cox, whose right arm was in a sling, said she worried the car that landed on top of the one she was inside would collapse the roof further. She said the passengers quickly decided to walk inside the next car.
"It could have been worse than what it was," Cox said.
, officials said of Washington's worst accident in the Metrorail's 33-year history.
National Transportation Safety Board official Debbie Hersman said it is too early to know if either conductor was distracted at the time of the crash. She added that the NTSB was still trying to find out if the trains were automated or manually driven when the crash occurred.