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A passenger recounts the moment the Amtrak train derailed: 'It was hell on Earth'

The derailed Amtrak train is seen beyond a corn field, near Mendon, Mo.
The derailed Amtrak train is seen beyond a corn field, near Mendon, Mo.

A passenger on board the Amtrak train that crashed into a truck and derailed in Missouri on Monday, killing four people, has described the accident as "hell on Earth."

Charles Hoffman was in one of the carriages that overturned at 12:43p.m. CT on the trip between Los Angeles and Chicago.

"I was riding backwards, so that was a blessing because I didn't fly forward on the impact, but all I heard was a bam, bang, boom," he said. "And all of a sudden the train dropped down, which I thought was probably when it went off track."

"And then it was like, bam, bam, bam, bam, riding down the wooden railroad ties."

"It overturned, fell to the left, and it skidded, skidded, skidded forever. I felt like it, anyway."

Hoffman said his window smashed and rocks from the tracks came streaming in.

Amtrak said the train was carrying about 243 passengers and 12 crew members when it collided with a dump truck at a crossing. Three passengers and the driver of the truck died and more than 100 more were injured.

Hoffman said in the moments after the crash, he tried to gain his bearings and see through the dust that filled the carriage.

A law enforcement officer inspects the scene.
Charlie Riedel / AP
A law enforcement officer inspects the scene.

"All I heard was, 'Are you OK? Anybody in here?" And I'm like, 'I'm in here,'" he said. "I had a long ways to go to get out, but I just kind of rolled my way out. I'm big guy and I kind of pushed my way up. I felt like I had Hercules strength with my adrenaline pumping."

Hoffman got to the top of the overturned carriage and said he was stuck up there for a while until onlookers showed him how to climb down the exposed wheels.

He was taken to hospital where staff tested him for cardiac issues because his heart rate was so high.

After a day in the emergency department, Hoffman said he finally made it home.

"The whole night when I was trying to fall asleep I kept getting flashbacks, and like visuals and things running through my head and it made it very hard to sleep," he said.

"I will say I'll never be on a train again for many years, many, many years."

"I feel blessed to be alive, but bumped up, bruised up, and kind of tattered and sore."

The National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said on Tuesday that a team of 15 had arrived in Missouri to investigate the collision.

Homendy said they were downloading the "event recorder," which would provide information like the speed the train was travelling and when the engineer blew the horn, and they had begun interviewing some of the 12 crew members on board.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A worker looks over the dump truck that collided with the Amtrak train.
Charlie Riedel / AP
A worker looks over the dump truck that collided with the Amtrak train.

Gus Contreras
Connor Donevan