American woman among 80 killed in Spain train crash; driver detained

The driver of the train that crashed in Spain, killing at least 80 people including one American, was detained and put under formal investigation Thursday after security video showed the train derailed after speeding around a tight curve.

Excessive speed has been identified as the likely main cause of the accident, official sources told Reuters as hospitals treated dozens of injured passengers, including at least five Americans.

A Virginia woman was among those killed in the derailment. Ana-Maria Cordoba worked as a benefits specialist for the Arlington Diocese. via Facebook

After the train derailed on the curve, where the speed limit was 49 mph, the driver, identified as 52-year-old Francisco José Garzón Amo by Spanish daily El Pais, spoke by telephone with the train operator's emergency service: "I should've been going 80 [49 mph] and I was doing 190 [118 mph]," he said. 

A Virginia woman was among those killed in the derailment, confirmed. Ana-Maria Cordoba worked as a benefits specialist for the Arlington Diocese.

Cordoba was traveling with her husband and daughter, now listed in stable condition at a local hospital according to the Catholic News Service

Robert and Myrta Fariza of Houston, Texas, and Stephen Ward of Bountiful, Utah, are among those who survived the crash.

Robert Fariza said that with only a few minutes left until his destination, the train was travelling at a high speed.

"Where everyone started knowing something had gone wrong was the fact that it started to flip," Fariza said. "Once it took that curve, it just took just like an 18-wheeler, so it took a very strong curve for it to flip over, and that's what actually happened in our car."


Fariza said the train car he and his wife were in flipped over.

"It became chaos, things flew and everything, it was sudden darkness and I was kind of thrown on one side of the train and that's why I'm kind of all kinds of beaten up here, and my wife, unfortunately, she was sitting on the side where the train flipped over, so everything kind of fell on her," he said.

Myrta Fariza was hospitalized in critical condition. 

Fariza was able to come out of the wreckage, where a horrifying scene awaited. 

"There was dead people everywhere, unfortunately, and right next to me there was a young man who had died right there," he said. 

Stephen Ward,18, had traveled to Spain for a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission trip.

“I remember the train going very fast round a sharp bend and then bags flying off the overhead baggage shelf,” Ward told UK's The Daily Telegraph from his hospital bed in Spain.

"It was like a scene from hell. I thought I was dreaming. There was blood everywhere, my own and other people's. And bodies were being carried out … Some were already dead and others looked like they were about to die,” Ward said.

“I have messed my neck up real bad and have stitches in four places on my head and face, but by the sounds of it I am just real lucky to be here,” he said.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that "the American people grieve with our Spanish friends."

Spain has declared three days of national mourning over the crash, Europe’s worst mainline rail accident for more than 25 years. The death toll has climbed to 80 and could rise further, Galicia regional officials told Reuters and AFP.

The horrific moment when the express train left the tracks on Wednesday night was captured on security video obtained by Spain’s El Pais newspaper.

Images from the scene showed bodies covered in blankets and towels lying next to toppled and crushed carriages as rescuers worked to pull survivors out of broken windows.

The driver - one of two in the cab at the time of the crash - has been put under formal investigation and was being held in custody in the hospital where he is being treated, the Supreme Court of the Galicia region said in a statement, according to Reuters.

"The judge has ordered the police to take a statement from the driver," the court said. 

State train company Renfe said the driver was a 30-year veteran of the firm with more than a decade of train driving experience. 

El Pais cited sources close to the investigation saying the driver stated immediately after the crash that he had been traveling at 118 mph on the curve, which had a speed limit of 49 mph.

Trapped in his wrecked cab, he reportedly told supervisors over the radio: "We're human! We're human," according to El Pais. "I hope there are no fatalities because they will fall on my conscience," he said, according to the newspaper’s source. NBC News was unable to immediately confirm the report.

A State Department official said it had been confirmed that a U.S. citizen was killed and five had been injured. "These numbers may change as we receive additional information."

Obama said he and his wife Michelle were “shocked and saddened” by the derailment.

“On behalf of the American people, we offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and loved ones of the more than 80 people who lost their lives,” he said. 

A group of volunteers waiting to give blood to help those injured in the train accident close to Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Wednesday. Xoan Rey / EPA

“We extend our wishes for a full recovery to those who were hurt. We also offer our heartfelt gratitude to the Government of Spain and to the rescue personnel who are working to locate the missing and treat the injured ... Today the American people grieve with our Spanish friends, who are in our thoughts and prayers.”

He added the United States was ready to provide “any assistance we can in the difficult days ahead.”

Pope Francis, who is currently visiting Brazil, sent his condolences and message of support to the bishop of Santiago de Compostela.

"Filled with deep pain, I ask your Excellency to please let those who have suffered know of my closeness to the their families, my fraternal affection and my personal solidarity, assuring them of suffrages for the deceased and a complete and total recovery for all those who have been so terribly distressed," the pope's message read.

All the bodies had been removed from the wreckage by Thursday morning.

Mar Linares, 42, from the Galician city of La Coruna, told Reuters that her 15-year-old son Marco, who was travelling from Madrid on the train, was in intensive care. 

"He was trapped by train wreckage but he managed to pull a hand free and that was how he was found. He says there was a lady on top of him who had been travelling with a little girl, and the lady was dead," she said at the hospital. 

Tomas Lopez, whose wife and two children were travelling on the train, told Reuters that "the worst thing is the uncertainty, I feel desperate" as he searched for them at Santiago University Hospital.

"My daughter is OK but I don't know where my wife and son are. My wife brought them from Madrid to see museums and such... I have been looking for them all night from one place to another," he said, tears rolling down his face. 

So many local residents lined up to donate blood that officials were forced to open additional donation points.

Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, declared three days of national mourning after visiting the site.

"The scene is shocking, it's Dante-esque," the head of Spain's Galicia region, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said Wednesday night in a radio interview, according to Reuters.

Some 94 people were injured, of whom 35 were in a serious condition, including four children, the deputy head of the regional government said. 

The crash, which happened at 8:41 p.m. local time (2:41 p.m. ET) Wednesday, was Europe’s deadliest mainline train accident in more than 25 years and Spain's worst in four decades.

It also cast a shadow of tragedy over the entire Galicia region, which had been due to celebrate a public holiday Thursday.

Santiago de Compostela had been preparing for the festival of St. James, when thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world pack the streets. It is likely the train was packed full with people traveling for the holiday.

Officials said all of the celebrations, including a traditional High Mass at the city’s centuries-old cathedral, were canceled.

The eight-car Alvia express train was traveling from the capital, Madrid, to the city of Ferrol when it derailed about two miles short of Santiago de Compostela station, national train operator Renfe said in a statement.

Spain’s rail network is one of the most modern and successful in Europe, following decades of public investment.

Transport expert and author Christian Wolmar said it was not clear if high-tech safety systems, which override inputs by the driver, would have been in use at the time.

“On high speed lines, the European Train Control System should automatically correct the speed of the train, but this accident may have happened on a stretch of line which is not designated as high-speed,” he said.

Rail workers’ union SEMAF expressed “support for the comrade who has been implicated in this accident” as well as “condolences” to the victims, according to RTVE.

The crash is Spain’s biggest disaster since the 2004 terror attack at Madrid’s Atocha station that left 191 dead, and its worst train crash since 1972 when a collision left 86 dead.

Brinley Bruton, Jason Cumming and Elisha Fieldstadt of NBC News, and Reuters contributed to this report.