The Metro-North engineer who was at the controls during a fatal train crash in suburban New York told investigators that he tried to stop when he saw a vehicle move directly in front of the train, the National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman said Friday evening.
The engineer, Steven Smalls, recounted the ill-fated train's final minutes, and how he helped as many as seven people to safety from the burning train, when investigators interviewed him Friday, NTSB vice chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters.
Smalls told investigators that he made all of the necessary checks before leaving Grand Central Station Tuesday on the evening route, which was his fourth and final run of the day, Sumwalt said.
As the train approached the scene of the crash that was to kill six people and injure at least a dozen, Smalls said he saw what he thought was a reflection at the crossing gate before realizing it was the “front end of a vehicle that was on the edge of the track,” which prompted him to “immediately” pull the emergency brake, Sumwalt added.
When the train hit the car, it was moving at 49 miles per hour, Sumwalt said. Smalls felt the collision and saw the car disappear underneath the front of the train.
He called in the crash on his radio, saying, “Emergency, emergency, emergency!” according to Sumwalt.
Smoke started flowing into the engineer’s compartment and Smalls told investigators he went into the first cabin of the train, helping five or six passengers out before getting out of the car.
"When smoke got too dense he exited the train," Sumwalt said.
After exiting, Sumwalt added, Smalls recounted seeing another passenger who was unable to walk crawling towards the door, so Small scooped him out “in a fireman’s pose.”
Additionally, the NSTB investigators met with the train’s conductor today, who was in the sixth car of the eight-car train at the time of the crash. The conductor felt the collision and, after hearing Smalls’ emergency call, made an announcement to passengers over the public address system to confirm the train had hit a car.
Sumwalt detailed the emergency evacuation procedure and told how 12 pieces of 39-foot sections of the third rail piled up in the first cabin of the train after the crash.
Five passengers from inside the train's front cabin died in the crash, as did the driver of the Mercedes SUV that was on the train tracks.