Amtrak derailment: Audio captures moments after train crash in Washington

Deadly train derailment

DUPONT, Wash. -- The inaugural run of a new Amtrak commuter line in the Pacific Northwest was a disaster. 

The 14-car train jumped the tracks Monday morning just south of Seattle, and all but one car flew off an overpass. Some cars hit vehicles on the interstate below and others were still dangling in the air Monday evening.

The train carried 77 passengers and a crew of seven. At least three people were killed and dozens were injured. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are on the scene.

A radio call captured the moment dispatchers first learned that cars had hurtled off a bridge, directly onto Interstate 5.

"Amtrak 501. Emergency... We are on the ground," an engineer said.

Was a new route the cause of the Amtrak derailment?

The dispatcher asked if everyone was OK. "I'm still figuring that out," the engineer replied. "We've got cars everywhere and down onto the highway."

One car flipped upside down onto the interstate, and another dangled precariously off the overpass. Others piled up, wreckage strewn over a wide area of the 14 cars, only one, the lead engine, remained on the tracks. No motorists were killed from the crash. 

"I was scared. I was really scared," said Adrian Thompson, who was en route to see his mother for the holidays. "I just grabbed onto the chair in front of me for dear life. My laptop went flying, my phone went flying."

Within minutes of the derailment, dozens of emergency crews rushed in, as did drivers who witnessed the crash, like Trevor Kulvi, who helped pull survivors to safety.

"I saw smoke. Next thing you know, myself and a few others are trying to get people medical care when we can," Kulvi said.

This was the first trip for the new Seattle to Portland line, but some local officials had expressed concern these tracks weren't safe enough for a commuter train traveling 80 mph. Those passengers who were able to walk away feel enormously fortunate.

"I'm going to say a prayer multiple times after this," Thompson said. "I feel blessed to be alive and OK right now."

NTSB investigators are  looking for an answer to that all important question: What caused this on a newly rebuilt set of tracks meant for higher speed operation? Was it a problem with the train, the tracks or perhaps operator error? It could take weeks to get an answer.

  • John Blackstone
    John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.