A Red Cross Society rescuer on Friday recalled the scene of a train crash in Hualien County, saying he could not believe what he saw: scattered body parts and the sounds of people crying in a crumpled train carriage.
“It was a living hell,” said Lin Chi-feng (林啟豐), who led an 11-member rescue team that was among the first to arrive at the scene at 11:03am on Friday, carrying rescue and demolition gear.
The fatal incident occurred at 9:28am when Taroko Express No. 408 crashed inside the Cingshuei Tunnel (清水隧道) after slamming into a crane truck near the tunnel’s entrance.
The truck had been parked near a construction site on a hill above the track, but slid onto the tracks, police said.
The first five carriages of the eight-car train, which was carrying nearly 500 passengers, piled up inside the narrow, single-track tunnel.
At least 51 people have been confirmed dead, official data showed.
When Lin arrived, he saw several carriages badly twisted in the tunnel, with some of them ripped apart, he said, adding that he knew he had to get into the damaged cars as soon as possible to get people out.
The twisted train cars were tilted against the tunnel’s walls, but it was the devastation inside the carriages that shocked him, he said.
“Chairs were mangled, objects were scattered all over the floor and blood was everywhere,” he said.
Inside the cars, where the power was cut, the air was stuffy and dead bodies and body parts were everywhere, Lin said.
He and other rescuers found the injured by tracking the sounds of people crying.
Although most of the injured had severe bone fractures, the rescuers were able to either carry them on their backs or in their arms, he said.
Only after all of the injured were removed from the carriages stuck in the tunnel did rescuers start pulling the dead from the wreckage, Lin said.
“It was heartbreaking to see so many children and infants die in the accident,” he said.
One of the passengers, surnamed Wu (吳), who riding in the train’s second carriage, said the train went completely dark after the crash.
“About an hour later, someone guided us out of the train. When we passed through [the third carriage from the front], I couldn’t bear to look because there were bodies everywhere,” Wu said.
The driver of the train, identified as 33-year-old Yuan Chun-hsiu (袁淳修), was killed in the crash as the front car was destroyed.
Yuan had activated the emergency brake before he died, said a train conductor surnamed Lee (李).
Lee, who was in the last of the train’s eight cars, said that after the emergency brake was hit, he felt a collision that caused the carriage to shake violently.
After he exited the train, he saw many cars piled up against each other and stuck in the tunnel.
Firefighters at the scene later told him that the front car was destroyed and the driver was missing, he said.
By the time Yuan was found, he was dead, Lee said.
Many colleagues were saddened by Yuan’s death, said Chang Shuan-hua (張栓華), an executive member of the Taiwan Railway Labor Union.
Yuan passed the Taiwan Railways Administration’s recruitment examination in 2016 and began driving trains a year later, Chang said.
Yuan was married in 2019, Chang said, adding that he did not have children.
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