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Base responds to derailment

JBLM and Madigan help out during tragedy

Efforts to clear wreckage from Monday’s Amtrak crash continued Tuesday on Southbound I-5. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Joint Base Lewis-McChord officials, first responders and regular soldiers and airmen responded heroically to Monday's train derailment near DuPont.

Amtrak's Cascade 501 was running 30 minutes late Monday morning when it left Tacoma and headed for Portland.  

At about 7:34 a.m. just outside of DuPont, the train -- comprised of two engines and 12 cars carrying 78 passengers and five crewmembers, according to Amtrak -- left the tracks.

"Shortly after the first call for assistance came in, Joint Base Lewis-McChord first responders were there," said Gary Dangerfield, a base public affairs official.

"About 35 JBLM personnel responded and helped out in a professional manner when and where they could."

Madigan's deputy commander of administration Lt. Col. Christopher Sloan, 2nd Lt. Robert McCoy of the 62nd Medical Brigade and Madigan CRNA Maj. Michael Livingston gave first-person accounts of their arrival on the scene prior to first responders after the unimaginable crash happened as they were driving to work, according to Madigan officials. All three soldiers told stories of scaling a collapsing, unstable structure to save victims from the crashed locomotive. The trio rescued several victims and saved lives despite the devastating visual first-impression of the crash site.

McCoy stopped to render aid. His medical training took over.

"I remembered I had a tourniquet and a CPR mask in my truck, and I grabbed those and took off toward the accident," he said during a press conference Tuesday, according to Madigan officials.  

"There were individuals who had been ejected ... onto the pavement."

McCoy said he carried many of the injured off the road and to safety, and then turned his attention to people trapped inside a dangling train car.

"I heard people in there asking for help and stuff," explained McCoy.

"I couldn't afford to be scared," he continued.  "I had to do what I am called to do and focus and channel that and help these people around me get to safety as best as possible."

"There was compassion, there was a clear understanding that people were in need of help. I said to myself immediately, this is a mass casualty scenario," said Sloan.

"I just knew people needed help. I had no idea it was an inaugural run of the train or anything, It was -- what can I do to help as fast as possible and keep these people safe," Livingston added.

As area police, fire and rescue services worked to rescue the passengers, the Madigan Army Medical Center began receiving patients.

A Level II trauma center, at 8:12 a.m., accepted the first of 20 patients for treatment, more than any other single medical facility in the South Puget Sound area. As of early Tuesday morning, a significant number of those patients continued to receive care, the center reported in a press release.

As of Wednesday, roughly 20 National Transportation Safety Board officials were on the scene to begin their investigation, which will include the possibilities of equipment failure, an obstruction on the tracks or human error.  Pieces of the wreckage were transferred to a location on JBLM for the investigation Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

In addition, JBLM officials opened portions of the base to allow civilians to skirt around the closed section of Interstate 5.

The accident occurred on the inaugural run of the first Amtrak train to use the new inland route between Tacoma and Olympia, part of a $181 million project to cut travel time.

The new route takes Amtrak trains along I-5, allowing them to reach speeds of nearly 80 miles per hour. The accident occurred on a curve in the track just before it crosses the highway.  

Thirteen of the 14 cars derailed; some landed in nearby woods; a couple dangled over the side of a bridge; and others landed on Southbound I-5 below, striking five automobiles and two semi-tractor trailers. One of the 132-ton locomotives rested on the highway.

Three people died; about 100 others were injured.

Federal transportation officials said Tuesday preliminary information from the data-event recorder showed the train was traveling 80 mph when it jumped the tracks.

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