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Family had been planning to go downtown, only to be caught in horror of CTA Yellow Line crash

Mother, grandfather recall horror of CTA Yellow Line crash
Mother, grandfather recall horror of CTA Yellow Line crash 03:20

Video above is from an earlier report.

SKOKIE, Ill. (CBS) -- Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were in Chicago Friday, trying to make sense of what caused a CTA Yellow Line train to crash near the Howard terminal in Rogers Park.

Everyone on the train – all 38 people – were injured when the train hit a snow fighter locomotive on the main track at the mouth of a stretch adjacent to the Howard train yard around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. CBS 2's Jermont Terry talked with one family on board – who had quite the story to tell.

It was their toddlers' first-ever train ride, and it turned to chaos.

The family jumped onto the train at the Oakton-Skokie Yellow Line, or Skokie Swift, stop in Skokie. They were headed to downtown Chicago for the afternoon.

Yet before they could switch trains at Howard Street, they found themselves being thrown around on what turned into a horrific ride.

"I was thrown into the air, and then into kind of like a Plexiglas wall," said Margaret Costello, who was on the train with both her children and her own parents.

"Very sudden – it was just an explosion," said Costello's father, Stephen Helmer.

Costello and her father cannot forget the moment the Yellow Line train crashed as they sat in the first car.

"We were talking about trains; how excited we were to have the toddlers on the train for the first time," said Helmer.

Stephen Helmer/Margaret Costello

The family took a picture of Costello's mother just before the family jumped on board. Yet Grandma's gut said to keep the twins strapped in their stroller.

"It's wild to think that I was going to just let my kids run around a train," said Costello, "and you and you just don't think something like that could happen."

When the train crashed, everyone was jolted.

"And then it was, bang!" said Costello, "and we were flown through the air."

The stroller went airborne and flipped.

"If we had lost them or if they had been maimed - I don't know how to express that emotion," Helmer said.

"I might've lost my parents and my children and one instance," Costello said.

The twins are OK. But Grandpa Helmer has 12 staples to his head and other bruises too. This family, like so many, has questions.

"I heard no braking, I heard no whistles, sirens – nothing," Helmer said.

They are left to wonder why the bright yellow CTA snow fighter locomotive was in the moving train's path.

"In my mind, it shouldn't have happened - with the day and age that we're in with technology," said Helmer.

NTSB continuing investigation into CTA Yellow Line train crash in Rogers Park 01:30

Helmer had his head wrapped as he was taken away in an ambulance on a stretcher.

The family is amazed not only by the way first responders stepped in but also by how people on the 'L' train did the same.

"There was a student who was walking around trying to assess people and calm them down," Helmer said. "He looked at me – told me my head was split open, but he couldn't see my skull, so I was OK."

So was the entire family – no one spent a night in the hospital. And with the Thanksgiving holiday next week, the family has a lot on which to reflect.

"It's Thanksgiving, and here we are. Thirty hours ago or whatever it was, we were just on a journey downtown to sightsee and have lunch and have fun," said Helmer, "and then your world gets turned upside down. It just goes to show you, you never know."

The grandparents are visiting town from upstate New York. The family says they trust the NTSB will get to the bottom of the accident that left them so shaken and scared.

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