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6 dead, 28 unaccounted for after Amtrak crash

At least six people are confirmed dead and 28 are unaccounted for a day after a semitrailer slammed into an Amtrak train in rural Nevada, officials said late Saturday night.
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/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

At least six people are confirmed dead and 28 are unaccounted for a day after a semitrailer slammed into an Amtrak train in rural Nevada, officials said late Saturday night.

The Churchill County Sheriff's Office said in a prepared statement that officials were working to confirm the victims' identities.

Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Lopez said earlier that the truck driver and an Amtrak conductor were among the confirmed dead in the fiery crash. Dozens of others were injured.

The train was en route from Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., with some 200 passengers Friday morning when the big rig plowed into one of its cars.

Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a Saturday night news conference in Reno that about 28 people remained unaccounted for, but he added that some passengers may have gotten off the train before the accident or been able to leave the scene and not informed authorities.

Authorities plan to look into toxicology factors, training and experience and hope to determine the cause of the crash in seven to 10 days, Weener said.

Weener said the train, going 78 miles per hour, was put into emergency stop mode when the truck collision appeared imminent. He said the truck and train had clear visibility of each other.

Crossing gates and signals were operating correctly, he said.

Skid marks on the road were 320 feet long, Weener said.

The truck driver who hit the train was in his mid 40s, and lives in the Battle Mountain area, Weener said. He did not identify him. The truck is owned by John Davis Trucking in Battle Mountain.

Two other trucks were behind the truck that hit the train and saw the collision, he said.

Earlier, authorities said they plan to look into the driving and medical records of the semitrailer driver.

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said they also will look at autopsy results to determine whether the driver had consumed drugs around the time of the collision Friday.

The big rig plowed into the California-bound train at a crossing in a rural area about 70 miles east of Reno.

Witnesses had told authorities that the truck didn't seem to attempt to stop at the crossing when it crashed through the gate. The driver was the sole occupant of the semi, which was hauling two empty gravel trailers.

About 20 people aboard the train were taken to hospitals in Reno and Fallon, but Lopez didn't know the extent of their injuries. Dan Davis, spokesman for Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, said two people were in critical condition, four were in serious condition and three were in fair condition.

"We're seeing the typical kinds of injuries you see in an accident like this — blunt force trauma, fractures, abrasions, lacerations and internal organ injuries," Davis said.

The incident happened at 11:25 a.m. Friday on U.S. 95 about 70 miles east of Reno, Lopez said.

"We are still going through the wreckage of the train which is pretty extensive," Lopez told msnbc.com. "We are still in the midst of the process of trying to account for everyone."

Amtrak set up a hotline for family members: 1-800-523-9101.

Amiee Fulk, spokeswoman for Banner Churchill Community Hospital in Fallon, said more than 10 people were treated in its emergency room, but she was unsure whether any were admitted into the facility.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Oakland, Calif., said most of the injuries were not life-threatening. He said 204 passengers and 14 crew members were aboard the California Zephyr en route from Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., which is about 300 miles west of the crash site.

Image:
In this photo provided by Ron Almgren. passengers and Amtrak train staff are seen at the site of a collision between an Amtrak westbound train and a truck on U.S. 95 about 4 miles south of Interstate 80 on Friday, June 24, 2011, 70 miles east of Reno, Nev. The truck driver and one person on the train were killed said Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Lopez. An unknown number of other people on the train were injured and were being taken by ambulances to the hospital. (AP Photo/Ron Almgren)Ron Almgren / Ron Almgren

Passenger Abel Ortiz, 42, of San Jose, Calif., said he was sleeping on the side of the car that was struck. He was returning from a trip to Richmond, Utah, with his family.

"As I looked up, I saw the train being ripped up. It created an opening in our car," Ortiz told the Lahontan Valley News & Fallon Eagle Standard newspaper in Fallon. "I saw the flames come over the windows of the side, like a quick flash of flames. Then smoked filled up everything. There was some screaming."

'I was scared'
His 13-year-old son, Aaron, said the flames startled him.

"I thought I was sleeping but I said this isn't a dream," he said. "I was scared. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the scariest), this was an 11."

Passenger Monte Mentry, 75, of Sebastopol, Calif., also boarded the train in Salt Lake City.

"The train rocked, and I was bouncing up and down in the seat (after the collision)," he recalled. "Everything in the luggage rack came down."

The accident shut down a section of U.S. 95 in both directions between Interstate 80 and Fallon, Nev. The scene is near the Trinity Rest Area, southwest of Lovelock in Churchill County.

The tracks cross the highway about three miles south of I-80 in the heart of the Forty-Mile Desert, which was considered one of the deadliest sections of the entire overland journey by California-bound, covered-wagon pioneers in the 19th century.

Two or three busloads of uninjured passengers were taken to a Fallon elementary school, where arrangements were made to transport them by bus to their destinations.

"Our first concern is caring for our customers and employees," Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman said in a statement. "We are saddened by any injury or loss of life and appreciate the emergency response by local and state agencies."