Virginia woman among 80 killed in Spain train crash, church says

Published July 26, 2013

| FoxNews.com

A Virginia woman and employee of a Catholic Church diocese outside Washington, D.C., was among the 80 people killed in the the Wednesday night crash of a passenger train in Spain.

The Diocese of Arlington said on its Facebook page that Ana Maria Cordoba, an administrative employee from northern Virginia, died in the wreck.

Catholic News Service, a division of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reported that Cordoba, a benefits specialist, was traveling with her husband, Philippe, and her daughter, Christina, a rising high school senior in Arlington.

CNS reported that Philippe and Christina Cordoba were in stable condition at a hospital.

Family members were on their way to see the Cordobas' son, who had completed a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Messages left for the diocese late Thursday were not immediately returned.

Investigators opened a probe Thursday into possible failings by the 52-year-old driver and the train's in-built speed-regulation systems.

Experts said one, or both, must be at fault for the disastrous crash of the train that was carrying 218 passengers and five crew members to Santiago de Compostela, a destination of Catholic pilgrimage preparing to celebrate its most revered saint.

The regional government of Galicia, in northwest Spain, said 94 people remained hospitalized, 31 of them in critical condition, including four children. The U.S. State Department said one American died and at least five others were hurt but cautioned that those figures could be revised upward.

Many victims suffered severe burns as the train's diesel fuel ignited a fire that caught some passengers trapped in mangled upside-down carriages. Emergency officials took DNA samples from the most heavily burned or the unconscious in an effort to identify both the living and the dead.

Rafael Catala, a senior transport official in Spain's Development Ministry, told radio network Cadena SER that the train appeared to be going much faster than the track's speed limit of 50 mph as it approached the city.

Breathtaking footage of the crash captured by a railway security camera showed the moment when the eight-carriage train approached a left bend beneath a road bridge at a seemingly impossible speed. An Associated Press analysis of the video indicated the train hit the bend going twice the speed limit or more.

Using the time stamp of the video and the estimated distance between two pylons, the AP calculated that the train was moving in a range of 89 to 119 mph. Another estimate calculated on the basis of the typical distance between railroad ties indicated its speed was between 96 to 112 mph.

The anonymously posted video footage, which the Spanish railway authority Adif said probably came from one of its cameras, shows the train carriages buckling and leaving the tracks soon into the turn.

Murray Hughes, consultant editor of Railway Gazette International, said a diesel-powered unit behind the lead locomotive appeared to derail first. The front engine quickly followed, violently tipping on to its right side as it crashed into a concrete wall and bulldozed along the ground.

In the background, the rear carriages could be seen starting to decouple and coming off the tracks. The picture went blank as the engine appeared to crash directly into the camera.

After impact, witnesses said, a fire engulfed passengers trapped in at least one carriage.

"I saw the train coming out of the bend at great speed and then there was a big noise," eyewitness Consuelo Domingues, who lives beside the train line, told The Associated Press. "Then everybody tried to get out of the train."

Spain's lead investigator in the crash, Judge Vazquez Tain, ordered detectives to question the train driver.

Train company Renfe identified the driver, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, as a 30-year employee of the state rail company who became an assistant driver in 2000 and a fully qualified driver in 2003. The company said Amo took control of the train from a second driver about 100 kilometers (65 miles) south of Santiago de Compostela.

Renfe's president, Julio Gomez-Pomar Rodriguez, told Spain's Cadena Cope radio network that the driver had worked on that route for more than one year.

It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972, when a train collided with a stationary carriage in southwest Spain, killing 86 people and injuring 112.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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