Tuesday, June 03, 2008

10 years ago

This post is about an event that took place exactly 10 years ago. It was one of these days like September 11th or the day that Princess Diana died, when you can ask anyone and they will know what they did that day.
I was in school as a 15 year old kid, having math tuition, when there was news on the radio about a high speed train accident. The guy who was sitting next to me shook his head.
The accident was the worst train accident in the history of our republic, and the worst high speed train accident worldwide. 101 people died, many were injured.
The circumstances were tragic. A wheel tire was so used that it broke and rammed into the floor of one of the cabins where people sat. These people survived what happened later, but did not manage to react well to the sign. They tried to inform one of the train staff, but it did not take much more than a minute for the disaster to happen. They could have activated the emergency brake, but did not find it. It would have changed everything.
Near an upcoming bridge, the damaged part of the wheel made some parts of the train shake, and then the broken wheel part hit a turnout on the rails which caused a part of the train to go on a different rail. Then it hit the bridge with such force that the whole bridge collapsed, killing 2 railway workers and throwing down the car on top of that bridge. News reports later assumed that the accident was caused by the car falling on the rails, which was not true.
Most people who died were killed either by the bridge or by the immediate slowdown from over 200 km/h to zero. The front part of the train was undamaged, one carriage ended up in the grass, 2 or three rolled out after the bridge, the train head kept driving until the driver was told he was running all alone. He had not noticed what happened, only notice some shaking and suspected a techincal problem. Afterwards he was so shocked he did not leave his train for 2 hours, and never drove again either. All the other carriages came to a sudden halt as you can see in the picture.
There was a documentary about the dead people, about people who survived and about families involved. It was a very distressing kind of documentary, they even used actors to play all the things that happened. Some people were killed who had not travelled by train for years. One man lost his wife because he had sat down on a different seat to lie down and sleep, and his wife was not even far away from him. One person reported that after the accident, he called a hospital to hear about a woman whose daughter was desperate to know how she was. He found out that she was alive and not in big danger, and he informed the daughter and the husband of the good news. Then, to his shock, he found out it was a different woman with the same name, and the real one was dead.
Yet another person found a body that was already covered by sand, and when he saw how the face had no ears, nose or anything, he was so shocked that he put the sand right back and covered the face again.
There were many stories like this. What matters is that people learned from it. The Inter City Express (ICE) now uses different wheels.
And it's a reminder to appreciate life. I didn't want to swap places with any of the people involved. What one can say is, we suffered with them on that day in Eschede. It was a black day for Germany.