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70 Feared Dead in London Collision

October 6, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ A train carriage that was transformed into a searing coffin in a rush-hour collision cooled enough Wednesday to allow authorities close enough to reach a grim conclusion: The death toll from the accident is likely to pass 70.

Twenty-eight people are known to have died when the two commuter trains collided at the height of rush hour Tuesday morning near London’s Paddington Station. It wasn’t entirely clear if the 70 who were confirmed missing included those 28, as police had not identified all of the dead.

Authorities also have received reports from friends and relatives about another 100 people who may have boarded the trains.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter was asked at a news conference if the final death toll would be as high as 170.

``I don’t think it is going to be as high as that. What I can say at the moment is that it is 70-plus,″ he replied.

``Yesterday’s train crash was a terrible tragedy, the scale of which is only just becoming apparent,″ he added.

The blaze reached temperatures estimated as high as 1,800 degrees, burning a first-class carriage so badly that emergency services have not been able to examine it thoroughly.

At least 14 of the 150 people taken to local hospitals were seriously hurt.

Meanwhile, horror stories began emerging from survivors.

Among them was Brendon Bentley, who described from his hospital bed the terrifying moments after the crash, when dazed and frightened passengers scrambled to escape from the burning train.

``I could see the flames and there were some people trapped underneath the seats,″ he said. ``We had to try to get over them and try to give them a hand, but we couldn’t, so then the first priority was just to get off the carriage.″

An emergency doctor at St. Mary’s Hospital, where many of the injured were taken, said the injuries were among the worst he’d ever seen.

``You had people coming in with their faces bandaged and just their two eyes looking out and the smell of burnt flesh,″ said Robin Touquet.

Police and firemen continued Wednesday to search through the widespread, mangled and burnt wreckage of Britain’s worst rail disaster in a decade.

``We are sure that no other survivors will be found,″ Trotter said. ``It is increasingly clear that there is very little else to recover from the scene.″

One passenger who escaped, 38-year-old Steve Jones, said he got out when another man in the carriage used a table to break a hole in the window.

``It was pretty horrific. I feel incredibly lucky,″ said Jones, who was hospitalized with burns.

Meanwhile, the train companies said their investigation would focus on the outbound Thames Trains service, which may have gone through a red light.

The London-bound Great Western train had a green light to proceed, according to a statement Wednesday by Great Western, Thames Trains and Railtrack, the company which operates the rail infrastructure.

Signals in the vicinity were in working order, the statement said.

One of two data recorders from the Thames train was reported found, but it was believed no data recorders were on the Great Western train.

Thames Trains earlier said its driver had been working for two months after completing 11 months of instruction.

The train companies said they were studying a specific signal that the train drivers’ union had complained was invisible at some points to drivers leaving Paddington. There had been at least eight incidents of trains going through red lights at that signal since 1993, the union said.

Tuesday’s collision occurred on the same stretch of track where a 1997 crash killed seven people and injured 150. Great Western had been fined $2.47 million for ``dereliction of duty″ in connection with the earlier crash.

The Great Western train originated in Cheltenham, western England. The Thames train, westbound for nearby Bedwyn had just pulled out of the station when the two collided.

Reports indicated both trains were traveling about 60 mph when the Thames train crossed in front of the larger train.

Tuesday’s accident was Britain’s worst rail crash since December 1988, when three trains collided outside London’s Clapham Junction, killing 35 people.

Update hourly