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Crews Search for Norway Victims

January 5, 2000

RENA, Norway (AP) _ Searchers today picked through the twisted, charred wreckage of two passenger trains that crashed head-on and were engulfed in flames, killing at least seven people.

The two passenger trains, with 100 people aboard, collided Tuesday 110 miles north of Oslo. Seven bodies were found shortly after the crash and 26 more were missing and feared dead. Some victims burned alive.

Another 30 people were injured in what could become the worst rail accident in Norway’s history.

Per Erik Skefstad, of the district police, said there was no longer hope of finding survivors. ``This is now purely a technical recovery operation.″

Police said it would probably take all day today and Thursday to recover the bodies, many of which were badly burned.

A fire in the wrecked trains burned for hours and postponed efforts to rescue those trapped inside or to recover additional bodies until early today.

``The worst thing to experience is to stand there and watch people burn ... going through that train and seeing people who were alive and conscious who we couldn’t help,″ said Ola Sunderaal, an ambulance crewman who was one of the first on the scene.

Officials said the search would be slow and difficult because many bodies will have to be cut out of the still smoldering wreckage. People were working in temperatures of about 5 degrees.

``One of the locomotives, which weighs 100 tons, is leaning, and it is impossible to know if it is secure,″ said Haakon Grimstad of the state railways directorate, adding that it wasn’t even clear in which cars the missing victims were located.

Some rescuers spent the night in military tents set up at the site, with the smell of smoke pervaded the winter air. Early today, soldiers formed a ring around the wreckage to protect it from intruders.

``This is a catastrophe,″ Transportation Minister Dag Jostein Fjaervoll said in Oslo.

Officials were not certain of the number of missing.

``Because this is a train, there is uncertainty. We cannot completely exclude that that someone could have left the scene without being registered or that there were unregistered passengers on board,″ Skefstad said.

Both trains’ engineers were among the missing.

A local train with 17 people aboard and a larger regional express with 83 people aboard were probably each going up to 55 mph around a curve when they crashed head-on, according to the state railroad directorate.

The diesel trains _ one southbound and the other northbound _ collided at 1:30 p.m. at the Aasta Station in Aamot township near the town of Rena.

The cause of the accident was being investigated. The section of track did not have a system that would automatically stop trains headed for each other and was due for an upgrade next year.

The railroad directorate said it was investigating news reports that traffic managers had been unable to warn the trains because they had the wrong cellular phone numbers for the engineers.

Passenger Rasmus Alme, 20, said he tried to save two women who were caught in the wreckage, but the flames forced him to flee.

``It was terrible. I so badly wanted to save them,″ he was quoted as telling the Oslo newspaper Verdens Gang. ``The heat was so intense. The women asked me to stay, but I had to jump.″

Steffen Solberg, head of the medical team, said rescuers worked for four hours to cut a 33-year-old woman out of the wreckage. He said firefighters kept the blaze from consuming her until she was finally rescued.

It was the second serious public transport accident in Norway in just over a month. On Nov. 26, 16 people drowned when a high-speed ferry ran aground and sank.

Norway’s worst train wreck was a 1975 train collision that killed 27 people.

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