NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The National Transportation Safety Board on Sunday evening was combing over the scene in the Bronx where four people were killed, and 70 were injured, when a Metro-North commuter train derailed.
The southbound Train No. 8808, which was carrying 100 to 150 people, left Poughkeepsie at 5:54 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive at Grand Central Terminal at 7:43 a.m.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the passenger train from Poughkeepsie left the tracks with a sudden, violent shudder and roll along the curve at Spuyten Duyvil, where the speed limit drops from 70 mph down to 30.
All of the train’s seven cars and its locomotive came off the curved track about 100 feet north of the nearby Spuyten Duyvil station around 7:20 a.m. Sunday, officials said. One car came to rest feet from the Harlem River.
“The train’s pretty beat up,” said FDNY Chief Edward Kilduff. “The train flipped to some degree. Some of them righted themselves after they flipped, but there was substantial damage inside. There was a lot of personal belongings thrown around and all.”
Three of the dead were found outside the train, and one was found inside, authorities said.
The deceased victims were identified Sunday night as Donna L. Smith, 54, of Newburgh; James G. Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring; James M. Ferrari, 59, of Montrose; and Kisook Ahn, 35, of Queens.
Lovell was a cancer and heart disease survivor who worked contract jobs in the city as a sound and light technician. He also had worked as an audio technician for NBC programs, including the “Today” show, for over 20 years.
“He was not only a skilled technician but also one of the nicest guys you ever met. You may have seen him working at many of our outdoor concerts. He always had a smile on his face and was quick to share a friendly greeting,” wrote “Today” executive producer Don Nash in a statement.
Longtime friend Janet Barton said Lovell was taking the Metro-North from Cold Spring to into the city Sunday to do lighting and sound work on the giant tree. She called him beloved and said he also enjoyed wind surfing and playing guitar.
State Sen. Greg Ball (R-Brewster) said Lovell was a caring member of his community and a family man. Lovell was the husband of Philipstown Councilwoman Nancy Montgomery.
Lovell is also survived by three sons – Hudson, Jack and Finn – and a daughter, Brooke, Nash said.
Son Finn Lovell, 17, posted an Instagram message about his father.
“Words can’t express how much my father meant to me. It’s safe to say he molded me into the man I am today. I love you and I miss you. I can’t believe you’re gone. This feels like an awful nightmare that I can’t wake up from. Rest easy dad. I love you,” he wrote.
In Newburgh, Kathy Cerone met CBS 2’s Dave Carlin outside the new-empty home of her longtime neighbor and friend Donna Smith.
“You get in a train and think it’s safe,” Cerone said.
Smith, who lived in her home alone, was a paralegal at a nearby law firm and was active with the Girl Scouts of America.
The neighbor said she recalls Smith had plans to see a holiday show in the city, getting an early start with at least one traveling companion, likely her sister.
There was concern in the Newburgh neighborhood for Smith’s sister, who was believed to have been on the train with her. Her sister’s car remained on the block.
“I hope she’s OK. It’s going to be tragic for her sister, though, because they were so close. They lost their mother a couple of years ago. Their father passed away also. So all they had was each other,” Cerone said.
At Ferrari’s Montrose home, a sign on the front door requested privacy. Neighbors said he was survived by a wife and daughter.
Ahn lived in Woodside, Queens, and according to her Facebook page, she was a nurse at Kings County Hospital.
11 Victims Critically Injured After Accident
Police told 1010 WINS a total of 70 people were injured.
Eleven people were reported in critical condition after the accident, authorities said. The train operator was among the dozens injured, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
The FDNY said 130 firefighters responded to the scene.
Passengers were taken off the derailed train, with dozens of them bloodied and scratched, holding ice packs to their heads.
On Sunday night, the train engineer remained in the hospital, as did a female assistant conductor who was hospital with a broken collar bone and head an eye injuries. A conductor who was in a rear car was released after being treated for a head injury, a source close to the investigation told CBS 2.
The engineer has been with Metro-North for close to 20 years and has spent the last 10 or 11 as an engineer. Per protocol, a blood sample was taken from the engineer to test for drugs and alcohol.
People who know the engineer, who lives near Poughkeepsie, have described him as “well respected”, “well liked”, and “a good man.”
CBS 2 has learned the train’s female assistant conductor also remained hospitalized as of late Sunday night. She suffered a broken collar bone, and head and eye injuries.
Five of the injured people were off-duty NYPD officers. Three were treated at area hospitals, while two refused treatment at the scene, 1010 WINS reported.
Some of the injuries suffered by passengers on the train were profoundly severe.
“The bone has fractured through and is actually piercing through the skin,” one medical professional said.
But many of the injured victims were fortunate enough to have been released by Sunday night.
NewYork Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center spokesman Brian Dotson said the medical facility had received 18 patients in total – 14 at the main hospital in Washington Heights and four more at the Allen Pavilion location in the Bronx.
By Sunday night, seven patients at Columbia Presbyterian had been released, while seven more have been admitted for further treatment. Two of those even patients remained in critical condition.
All of the patients at the Allen Pavilion had been released as of Sunday night, the MTA said.
Jacobi Medical Center received 13 patients, none of whom were critically injured and some of whom already have been discharged.
St. Barnabas Hospital reported receiving 12 injured patients – two of them in critical condition. Montefiore Medical Center reported very few patients, all with minor injuries.
PHOTOS: Metro-North Train Derailment
Investigators Search For A Cause
NTSB investigators arrived on the scene Sunday afternoon, and their probe was expected to take a good long time, said Earl Weener of the NTSB.
“We’ll be on scene a week to 10 days, and then it will a year after that before probable cause and analysis will be completed,” Weener said.
Investigators will be divided into several teams focusing on specific areas, such as the track, signals and human performance.
As WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported, NTSB investigators used the first several hours to document the tracks and the train.
“Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from happening again,” Weener said.
NTSB officials have wasted no time in launching their investigation and assessing damage, 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported.
“We’ve had a chance to start looking over the scene and start documenting the condition of the rails and start documenting the condition of the cars,” Weener said.
The NTSB team went right to the locomotive on arrival. It was at the rear of the train pushing the cars toward Grand Central Station, while the motorman was upfront running the mechanism remotely.
Also of concern for investigators was the possibility that some victims may still be stuck inside or underneath the train.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will also be joining in the probe.
“The MTA will be cooperating fully with the NTSB in this investigation,” Cuomo told reporters Sunday afternoon. “The MTA wants to know, as much as anyone, what happened with this accident, if there is a lesson to be learned because safety is job one.”
Cuomo continued: “What’s most important is we lost four New Yorkers this morning. We have 11 who are critically injured, who are still in the hospitals. And I would ask all New Yorkers to remember them in your prayers tonight.”
Witnesses told 1010 WINS the train was moving very fast and took a hard turn before going off the tracks.
MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the big curve where the derailment occurred is in a slow speed area. The black box should be able to tell how fast the train was traveling, Anders said.
Cuomo said earlier Sunday that preliminary findings suggest speed might have been to blame.
“There was no apparent problem with this track that the people this morning could detect,” the governor told WCBS 880. “Really, we’re waiting for NTSB because it appears like it’s speed related, and that would then take a person to believe it’s either operator error or equipment failure. But again, it’s all speculation until we get the actual data from the NTSB.”
Cuomo said the sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet, can be dangerous.
“That is the question. The curve has been here for many, many years, and trains take the curve everyday of 365 days a year,” he said.
But the governor said accidents such as this one do not occur every day at the site.
“It can’t just be the curve,” he said. “That in it in itself is not the answer.”
The governor said the accident could have been far more tragic if it had happened on a weekday.
“It would have been much, much worse if this had happened during the week,” he told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon. “There were about 100 to 150 people on this train. There would have been multiples of that during the week. You’ve seen pictures of the train. … It’s even worse when you look inside the train because what happened is as the trains were sliding along the ground, they were picking up rocks and debris, which was then flying through the cars.”
The derailment occurred about a quarter-mile from where a freight train derailed in July. No one was injured in that accident. Weener said investigators will look into whether the two incidents could be related, but as of Sunday, nothing indicated they were.
Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told CBS 2 “we are very concerned about seeing another” accident on the Metro-North.
Meanwhile, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told 1010 WINS the NTSB has given the agency all clear to remove the cars. They must then bring in cranes and other equipment to clear the cars, and then some of the tracks must be repaired.
Passengers, Witnesses Describe The Horror
“A day like any other day; It started to make a loud shifting noise, like with the tracks and the next thing I know two people from the other side of the train come flying over and fell on top of me,” Ciccone said. “I couldn’t believe we were flipping over.”
Like a grim lottery, seat selection suddenly became a matter of life and death.
“Because I was on that wall, I didn’t go through the windows when the windows blew out, so that was able to sustain me and some of the injured,” Ciccone said. “It was just complete chaos.”
For residents in the surrounding Riverdale section of the Bronx, the derailment made a noise that seemed to be everywhere at once. And outside a nearby fifth-floor window, the first four cars were seen strewn across the side of the rail, while the locomotive was seen directly below from the opposite side of the living room.
“It was just vastly loud,” said area resident Pam Markley. “I can’t describe the sound. It was louder than anything I’d ever heard.”
Steve Kronenberg, who lives nearby, told WCBS 880’s Monica Miller he was working at his computer when he heard the crash.
“I thought a plane was coming in,” he said. “I jumped away. Then after the noise stopped, I looked out the window and saw the train derailment, and I called 911 right away. They put me on with the fire department. I told them what had happened, where it was, so on and so forth. … I told them there wasn’t any flames. There was a little bit of smoke coming out from one of the cars, and they got here pretty quickly.”
Bill Sherman told CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell the accident was so loud it woke him up.
“It sounded like crunching, grinding metal,” he said. “I jumped out my bed, and I looked out my window and I saw one of the trains on its side and one of them sort of teetering and smoke coming out from between the two cars. I actually thought it was going to catch fire.”
Mike Gallo, who also lives nearby, was walking his dog when the train derailed.
“A lot of people were able to climb out themselves,” he told Burrell. “A lot of people needed assistance. Some people actually had neck braces on. A lot of them had to be carried out and across the tracks into waiting ambulances. So it was dramatic and traumatic at the same time. It was not something you expect to see on a Sunday morning just after Thanksgiving. It’s not a pretty sight.”
The crash brought a small army to the area, inflating bags under the trains, cutting their way through the debris, and getting victims out any way they could.
“A lot of people were able to climb out themselves, a lot of people needed assistance; some people actually had neck braces on and a lot of them had to be carried out,” one witness said.
“There were a few like covers over bodies, and it was a horrible sight to see,” said area resident Romona Howlin.
Local, National Leaders Offer Prayers, Condolences
Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited with some of the derailment victims being treated at St. Barnabas Hospital. Echoing Cuomo’s comments at the scene, the mayor said the accident could have been much worse.
“If it had happened at a different time of the day, the trains would have been packed,” Bloomberg said. “They could have gone into the river. It seemed to stop just before that.”
Bloomberg said one victim, in a neck brace, was feeling well enough to joke with the mayor about his impending unemployment.
Meanwhile, the White House issued a statement saying President Barack Obama’s thoughts and prayers and are the friend and families of the victims, a sentiment echoed in another statement by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
“We must figure out how this happened,” Schumer said. “The National Transportation Safety Board was set up to conduct expert, complete and, most of all, independent investigations when a major tragedy like this occurs. To protect commuters, it is critical that they do their job with speed and certainty.”
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio also issued a statement about the accident.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of those killed and injured in this morning’s tragedy. I spoke with Commissioner Kelly this morning and my office continues to monitor the situation,” de Blasio said. “We stand ready to work with officials and authorities in any way we can to help those in need, and to learn the cause of this accident.”
Metro-North Service Plan For Sunday Night And Monday
The Metro-North will continue to provide bus service from the Tarrytown Station to the White Plains Station on the Harlem Line until 2 a.m. on Monday, according to a release from Metro-North.
Starting at 5 a.m. on Monday the MTA will provide a bus shuttle between the Yonkers Station and the Van Cortlandt Park-242nd Street terminus of the Broadway No. 1 Train subway line, until further notice. New York City subways will be operating two additional No. 1 trains per hour during peak periods.
Hudson line tickets will be cross-honored on the subway, but anyone who does not have to travel has been urged to telecommute.
Special parking is also being arranged to accommodate additional drivers at the Southeast Station at the northern terminus of the Harlem line and at Kensico dam, the MTA said.
Riders can find more information at the MTA’s website.
Meanwhile, Amtrak restored service on its Empire line between New York City and Albany Sunday afternoon.
Earlier, a center had been set up for families to reconnoiter at John F. Kennedy High School in Marble Hill, but it was closed by Sunday evening since everyone had left. Anybody with questions regarding passengers aboard the derailed train should call 1-800-METRO-INFO. The original 718 number has been disconnected.
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