Train Conductor In Spain Crash Was On The Phone When It Derailed

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.  (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS2013)

Not only was he traveling at twice the speed limit, but the conductor of the train that derailed and killed 79 people in Spain was on the phone when the crash happened last week, according to a preliminary results of the investigation released Tuesday.

The conductor, Francisco José Garzón Amo, was talking on the phone to an official of national rail company Renfe when the crash happened and apparently was consulting a paper document at the time, the statement said. 

Garzon was provisionally charged Sunday with multiple counts of negligent homicide.

The conductor received a call on his work phone in the cabin, not his personal cell phone, to tell him what approach to take toward his final destination. The Renfe employee on the telephone "appears to be a controller," the statement said.

The train had been going as fast as 119 mph shortly before the derailment, and the conductor activated the brakes "seconds before the crash," according to a written statement from the court in Santiago de Compostela, whose investigators gleaned the information from two "black box" data recorders recovered from the train.

The speed limit on the section of track was 50 mph.

The crash occurred near Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, and was the country's worst rail accident in decades. Some 66 people are still hospitalized for injuries, 15 of whom are in critical condition. Among the dead are six people from Latin America, including a government official from the Dominican Republic.

"From the contents of the conversation and from the background noise it seems that the conductor (was) consulting a plan or similar paper document," the investigators' statement said.

Investigators from the Santiago de Compostela court, forensic police experts, the Ministry of Transport and Renfe examined the contents of the two black boxes recovered from the lead and rear cars of the train.

The investigation is ongoing. The next steps include measuring the wheels on the cars and examining the locomotive, the statement said without providing an explanation for those checks. Sniffer dogs will also be used to search for human remains in the wreckage, it said.

The train was carrying 218 passengers when it hurtled off the tracks last Wednesday evening. It slammed into a concrete wall, and some of the cars caught fire. The Spanish rail agency has said the brakes should have been applied 2.5 miles before the train hit the curve.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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