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'It Was Kind Of Like A Dream': Washington State Amtrak Passenger Recalls Derailment


When a high-speed Amtrak train left Seattle this morning on a new route to Portland, it was a cause for celebration. It turned tragic when the train derailed about 50 miles south. Helicopter footage shows some train cars upside down, others dangling over the I-5 Freeway. Washington State Patrol says at least three people have died. Many others are injured. Patricia Freeman was on the train when the accident happened. I asked her to describe the moment of the crash.

PATRICIA FREEMAN: People always say this, but it was kind of like a dream. I felt alert. And I had the thought, we're going off the tracks. And I tried to grab the table. I was sitting in the bistro car. And then I felt another lurch, and there was a huge impact on side of the train. And I just went flying to the other end of the car. And then I was pinballing around on the floor of the car, trying to catch a table leg or something.

But I ended up at the other end of the car. And the motion stopped. And I was able to get up. And I couldn't see anything. It was pitch black. And there was dust falling. And people were screaming. And an Amtrak person came and broke out the window and said climb out here, and go up this hill. And we were on a muddy, very steep hill. But you know, after a little sliding around, a couple of us managed to go out the window and get to the top of this hill. And then you just stood there in the rain, looking down in disbelief.

SHAPIRO: What did the scene look like from the top of that hill?

FREEMAN: Well, we didn't have a clear view of it. The car I was in - what had happened was it had jumped the rails and smashed into a giant tree, which is what the impact was and what stopped it. Had that not happened, our car would of, as others did, I think rolled down the hill and probably ended up on its head. So we saw some cars had gone down the hill. And we saw ambulances coming and first responders streaming in from the Air Force base nearby and all of the towns nearby.

And then finally after the better part of an hour, they told us all to go down and go across the freeway to the triage area. And when we got across the freeway, we could see the whole thing, which was sad. And then I knew that I got lucky.

SHAPIRO: I can hear how shaken up you are. Did you know any other people on the train?

FREEMAN: No. One of my first thoughts was, thank goodness I'm by myself. But you know, there were many, many people who reached out. The guy who was climbing out the window with me - young man - kind of - he gave me a hug. And he's been following me around all day to make sure I'm OK.

SHAPIRO: Are you OK?

FREEMAN: I am. My face is kind of mashed up but, you know, just fat lip and things like that.


FREEMAN: My ribs are hurting. I banged up my knee. You know, it's - I didn't even know anything had happened at first. But after a few hours, you kind of notice things, you know?


FREEMAN: But it's nothing to - I walked out of there.

SHAPIRO: Patricia Freeman, I'm glad that you're OK, and thank you for speaking with us about what sounds like an absolutely harrowing experience today.

FREEMAN: Yeah. I'm just pulling for the people who went to the hospital. And thanks to all the first responders who showed up and took care of everybody. That was an amazing thing to see.

SHAPIRO: Patricia Freeman was 1 of 84 people onboard the Amtrak train that derailed this morning south of Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.