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3 dead, scores injured after Amtrak train plunges off bridge onto I-5

Photo: KOMO News

TACOMA, Wash. -- An Amtrak train making the first-ever run along a faster new route hurtled off an overpass south of Seattle on Monday and spilled some of its cars onto the highway below, killing three people, injuring more than 100 and crushing two vehicles, authorities said.

Attention quickly turned to the train's speed.

The National Transportation Safety said late Monday night, preliminary reports from the data recorder in the rear locomotive show the train was going 80 miles per hour on a 30 mile per hour track. The NTSB said they will investigate why the train was traveling at that speed and other factors that may have led up to the crash.

WATCH: NTSB gives update on Amtrak derailment:

The NTSB also said crash prevention technology, known as Positive Train Control (PTC), was also not activated,

80 passengers, five crew members and one technician were aboard when the train derailed about 40 miles south of Seattle just after 7:30 a.m., Amtrak said.

The State Patrol said Monday night 72 people were taken to area hospitals, of those 10 patients were in serious condition and one of those patients was airlifted to Harboview Medical Center.

"This is a tragic event. On behalf of everyone at Amtrak, I want to express that we are deeply saddened by what happened here today," Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told reporters near the crash site Monday night. "The NTSB will carry out an investigation and we’ll wait for their findings."

WATCH: State Patrol, WSDOT and Amtrak give update on trail derailment:

An official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press that preliminary signs indicate that Train 501 may have struck something before going off the track about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Seattle. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office said five passenger vehicles and two semi trucks on Interstate 5 were struck by falling train cars and multiple motorists were injured. No fatalities of motorists were reported.

In a radio transmission immediately after the accident, the conductor can be heard saying the train was coming around a corner and was crossing a bridge that passed over Interstate 5 when it derailed.

"Emergency! Emergency! Emergency! We are on the ground!" a radio message from the train came into dispatchers, according audio obtained by Broadcastify.com. "We are on the bridge over I-5 near Nisqually... on the freeway. Need EMS [emergency services] ASAP. Looks like they are already starting to show up."

MORE | Radio Traffic From Amtrak Train

Dispatch audio also indicated that the engineer survived with bleeding from the head and both eyes swollen shut.

"I'm still figuring that out. We've got cars everywhere and down onto the highway," he tells the dispatcher, who asks if everyone is OK.

Trooper Brooke Bova with the Washington State Patrol says the train had 12 passenger cars and two engines, and all but one engine derailed. Five vehicles and two semi trucks were struck by the falling train cars on I-5 causing injuries, but no fatalities on the freeway. The extent of the injuires to those on the freeway is not known.

She said there were three fatalities. The Associated Press had earlier reported six dead, but Bova said there were three. Bova and Jay Sumerlin, a battalion chief with West Pierce Fire & Rescue, said all of the train cars have been searched. There were worries that more bodies would be found in the cars.

The train was going more than 80 mph about one-quarter mile before it entered a curve where the speed limit was much lower. A track chart prepared by the Washington State Department of Transportation shows the maximum speed drops from 79 mph to 30 mph for passenger trains just before the tracks curve to cross Interstate 5.

The chart, dated February 7, 2017, was submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration in anticipation of the start of passenger service along a new bypass route that shaves 10 minutes off the trip between Seattle and Portland.

It was not clear how fast the train was moving at the precise moment when it derailed.

Kimberley Reason with Sound Transit, the Seattle-area transit agency that owns the tracks, confirmed to the AP that the speed limit at the point where the train derailed is 30 mph. Speed signs are posted two miles before the speed zone and just before the speed zone approaching the curve, she said.

"There were people screaming"

Chris Karnes was on the train, three or four cars back from the front.

"We had just passed the city of DuPont and maybe two or three minutes after that and we felt a little bit of wobbling and then the next thing that we knew we were being catapulted into the seats in front of us and we could hear the train derailing and metal crunching," Chris Karns told KOMO NewsRadio. "There were people screaming -- everything was dark. We had to kick out the window in order to get off the train."

Aleksander Kristiansen, a 24-year-old exchange student at the University of Washington from Copenhagen, was going to Portland to visit the city for the day.

"I was just coming out of the bathroom when the accident happened. My car just started shaking really, really badly. Things were falling off the shelf. Right away, you knew that this was not something minor," he said.

The back of his train car was wide open because it had separated from the rest of the train, so he and others were able to jump out to safety. He was at about the middle of the train, either the sixth or seventh car, he said, and was "one of the lucky ones."

Emma Schafer was headed home to Vancouver, Washington, on winter break from the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and was napping when the crash occurred.

She awoke to find her body at a 45-degree angle and her train car dangling from the overpass. Someone behind her was pinned by the legs, she said, and she and others who could walk exited the train by crawling onto a car underneath theirs that had been crushed.

"It felt oddly silent after the actual crashing. There was a lot of metal, a lot of screeching, a lot of being thrown around. It was very quiet. Then there was people screaming," Schafer said.

"I don't know if I actually heard the sirens, but they were there. A guy was like, 'Hey, I'm Robert. We'll get you out of here.'"

Daniella Fenelon, a 19-year-old from Southern California, was on the train taking a cross-country trip as part of her winter break. She said she was asleep when the accident happened.

"Suddenly there was just a jolt, and I didn't know what was happening," Fenelon said. She slammed into the seat area in front of her, and the windows exploded, said Fenelon, who was treated and released from a hospital with a possible concussion.

Four hospitals say 50 patients were taken to hospitals in Pierce and Thurston counties, said Cary Evans, communications and government affairs director of CHI Franciscan Health. Twenty of those patients went to Madigan Army Medical Center where nine were in serious condition, according to a hospital spokesperson. The other 11 patients were in fair and stable condition. At other hospitals, 14 were taken to Good Samaritan Hospital, 5 patients to Allenmore, 3 patients to Tacoma General, 10 patients to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia. It is not immediately known where the others were taken. Of that other group, at least two people are in critical condition and 11 others are seriously injured.

Medical tents were set up in the highway median just south of DuPont.

The only car that is on the tracks is the rear locomotive," Karnes told the Associated Press. "There are several cars that are hanging over the overpass."

Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a State of Emergency for the disaster and has activated the State Emergency Operations Center.

DuPont Mayor Michael P. Courts also declared a state of emergency in that city.

In a conference call with reporters, Amtrak President and Co-CEO Richard Anderson said “Positive Train Control” was not activated on the tracks at the time of the derailment. Positive Train Control is a technology that automatically slows down, and eventually stops, a train if it senses the train is going too fast and could derail or get in an accident.

'Prepared for the Worst and Hoped for the Best'

Motorists said they drove up to find a train car hanging off the bridge, and dozens of Amtrak passengers stranding along the freeway. Motorists on both sides of the freeway began to help them.

Dr. Nathan Selden, a neurosurgeon at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said he and his son drove through the accident scene while traveling north to visit Seattle. The doctor asked if he could help and was ushered to a medical triage tent in the highway median.

The most seriously injured had already been whisked away, but the patients he helped appeared to have open head wounds and skull, pelvic or leg fractures, as well as small cuts and neck sprains, he said.

He called it a miracle that an infant child he saw from the scene appeared completely unharmed.

Daniel Konzelman, 24, was driving parallel to the train on his way to work as an accountant in Olympia. He was about 30 seconds ahead of the train on the freeway when he saw it derail.

Konzelman, who was driving with his girlfriend, parked his car and grabbed some boots and a headlamp

He said he climbed a tree that had fallen and stepped into a train car through a window. There was broken glass everywhere.

"So the trains -- a lot were tipped over on the side and some of them, the roofs had rippped or collapsed, he said. "First two were fine, We just walked in ."

Then he and his girlfriend entered a train car with a collapsed wall. "So we had to belly-crawl through," he said.

"It's dark. It's eery," he said. "It sort of felt like war. What I imagine that to be like."

He said they tried to comfort people and keep them calm. Some couldn't move because of their injuries or were pinned under wreckage.

"I just wanted to help people because I would want people to help me," Konzelman told The Associated Press. "I'm an Eagle Scout. I have a lot of first-aid training and emergency response training."

He and his girlfriend stayed for nearly two hours before hitting the road again.

"I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. I saw a little bit of both," he said.

Southbound I-5 To Remain Closed For Extended Period

All southbound lanes of Interstate 5 are closed south of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and are expected to remain closed at least through the morning commute on Tuesday, according to the WSDOT. Troopers have set up a number of detours, including one allowing drivers to cut through Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The northbound lanes are expected to remain open, officials said near the crash site Monday night.

"I wish I could give everybody a firm time on when we’re gonna have this open, but there’s too many variables. We gotta check the safety of that overpass, we gotta check the safety of I-5, and we have to make sure our first responders at scene are safe," said Captain Dan Hall, Washington State Patrol.

"We have a detour that’s going through Center Drive through the base," Trooper Bova said. "JBLM is being amazing and they’re really helping us get traffic through there but please expect congestion through that area. That is one of our biggest detours."

Other detours take drivers around into Kitsap County or far into eastern Pierce and Thurston County.

Alaska Airlines has also announced it will lower fares on flights between Seattle and Portland on Monday and Tuesday.

In a statement, Amtrak said the train that derailed was Train 501, offering service from Seattle to Portland.

The train was making the inaugural run on the new route as part of a $180.7 million project designed to speed up service by removing passenger trains from a route along Puget Sound that's bogged down by curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic. It left Seattle around 6 a.m., according to an Amtrak schedule, and was due in Portland about 3 1/2 hours later.

The train was going 81.1 mph moments before the derailment, according to transitdocs.com, a website that maps Amtrak train locations and speeds using data from the railroad's train tracker app.

The maximum speed along the stretch of track, known as Point Defiance Bypass, is 79 mph, according to information about the project posted online by the Washington State Department of Transportation. However, officials with Sound Transit, who own the tracks, say the speed limit in the curve is 30 mph. They would not speculate on the speed of the train at the time of the crash, deferring to official agencies investigating the crash.

President Trump Responds

President Donald Trump used the deadly train derailmen to call for a boost to infrastructure spending.

In a tweet sent about three hours after the crash that authorities said killed at least six Monday, Trump says it shows "more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly."

Trump adds: "Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!"

About 10 minutes later, he offerered his condolences for those involved in the tragedy:

"My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident in DuPont, Washington. Thank you to all of our wonderful First Responders who are on the scene. We are currently monitoring here at the White House."

Family Resource Information

Amtrak has established a toll-free number, 1-800-523-9101 for family and friends to call for information about loved ones aboard the train.

KOMO News at STAR 101.5 are holding a blood drive through Bloodworks Northwest to help the victims of the train crash. Donors can stop by the bloodmobile outside KOMO Plaza from 8:00 a.m. tp 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19. To Schedule an appointment, CLICK HERE.

This is a developing news story. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

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