American Tourist Survived Wild Ride Clinging to Side of Train in Australian Outback

Published June 07, 2009

| Newscorp Australian Papers

A young American tourist survived a terrifying high-speed train ride through the Australian Outback in which he clung to the side of a railway car in the freezing dark as it hit speeds of 70mph.

Chad Vance, 19, of Alaska, squeezed himself into a tiny stairwell on the Ghan train as it raced for almost 120 miles through the South Australian Outback after leaving Port Augusta.

It was two hours and 20 minutes before a crew member heard his desperate cries for help and brought the train to an emergency halt.

"I was worried I wasn't going to survive," Vance said of his hair-raising Thursday night ride. "If I'd fallen off at that speed and hit the nasty-looking rocks below, I don't think I would have made it."

Ghan crew member Marty Wells became a lifesaver when he heard Vance's frantic calls for help and yanked on the train's emergency brake handle, rescuing the tourist from a potentially fatal predicament.

"Chad is a very lucky guy: When we rescued him, his skin was white and his lips were blue," he said. "We were still about three hours away from our next scheduled stop, and in that time, he could have easily died of hypothermia or lost his grip and fallen to his death."

Vance apparently caught part of his ordeal on video from his cell phone.

The lead-up to Vance's dice with death was quite unremarkable. He boarded the train in Adelaide on Thursday for the journey to Alice Springs.

And like most passengers in the seated carriages, he stretched his legs during a short stop in Port Augusta at about 5:30 p.m.

The university student, from the hamlet of North Pole, in central Alaska, strolled around town but lost track of time and arrived back at the platform as the Ghan was leaving.

On board were all his belongings, including his passport. He had already traveled by train from Sydney to Adelaide, after arriving in Australia on May 17, so Vance knew the Ghan would pull up just outside of town to change drivers before continuing its journey.

He decided to make a run for it. When he reached the stationary train, he frantically banged on the windows of the first-class dining carriage — but the passengers ignored him.

After five minutes, the train began slowly pulling away again, and Vance thought he would be stuck in Port Augusta with just $10, a digital camera and the shirt on his back.

The young tourist then made an "instinctive" decision (which he admitted in retrospect was a "pretty crazy idea") and managed to grab hold of the stairwell near the rear of the train and swing himself into a cramped sitting position.

As the night wore on and the train gained speed, the outside temperature plummeted to 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Clad only in a pair of boots, jeans and a T-shirt, Vance also had to deal with the severe wind-chill factor, which a weather calculator estimate would put the temperature at about 19 degrees.

Some two hours and 20 minutes after jumping into the stairwell, Vance's desperate calls for help were answered.

Wells said that after being brought on board, the backpacker collapsed to the floor.

"He was shaking uncontrollably for several hours and complained of numbness to the left side of his body and arms and said his face was also stinging," Wells said.

"I've never seen anything like this before and I sure hope I don't ever see it happen again."

Vance received first aid from the crew — and a cup of soup — and was upgraded to a sleeper cabin for a hot shower and warm night's rest.

His youth and conditioning of living in a cold climate helped Vance make a speedy recovery.

"I got off the train the next day in Alice Springs and headed out on a tour of Uluru and Kings Canyon," the tourist said.

He has since left the city of Darwin for Cairns, near the Great Barrier Reef, and will head home from Sydney on June 17.

Click here for more on this story from News.com.au.

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