At least 43 people have died in a train crash in Greece, with the country’s prime minister saying the disaster appeared to be mainly due to “tragic human error”.
Search for survivors continues after passenger service collided with a freight train carrying shipping containers and traveling in the opposite direction but on the same track at estimated speeds of up to 100 mph.
Wagons derailed and then caught fire in Greecethe deadliest train accident in living memory. Temperatures in a car reached 1,300°C (2,370°F) after it caught fire.
Some passengers kicked through windows to escape the inferno on Tuesday night, while others were thrown 40 meters due to the impact of the crash.
The passenger service had left Athens and was heading for the northern city of Thessaloniki when the collision happened near the central town of Larissa, 200 miles north of the capital.
Many of the victims are believed to have been university students returning home from a long holiday weekend.
Some 57 people remain in hospital, including six in intensive care, while 15 others have been released, according to the country’s fire department.
The passenger train would have carried about 350 passengers. More than 200 people who were not injured were taken by bus to Thessaloniki.
Stergios Minenis, 28, who jumped to safety from the wreckage, said: “There was panic… The fire was immediate. As we turned around we were burned, the fire was on the right and to the left.”
“People were screaming”
A passenger, who escaped from the fifth carriage, told Skai TV: “The windows were smashed and people were screaming… One of the windows collapsed under the impact of the iron from the other train .”
Another said: “There was fire next to us. We found a hole and from there we managed to get out. The cart started to spin, then it ended up on its side and we got out.
“It was 10 nightmarish seconds, in flames. There was panic in the car, you couldn’t see around you because of the smoke.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called it a “horrific train accident without precedent in our country”, promising a full and independent investigation.
He said it appeared the accident was “mostly due to tragic human error”, but gave no further details.
A station master was arrested as investigators tried to figure out why the two trains had been on the same track “for many kilometres”, while the country’s transport minister, Kostas Karamanlis, resigned.
Eight railway workers were among the victims, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, according to the president of the Union of Greek Railway Workers, Yannis Nitsas.
What we know so far about the accident
The questions now turn to how the tragedy happened
The salvage operation will continue into the night, with heavy machinery needed to move the huge train wrecks, so crews can painstakingly search the wreckage.
“There are unlikely to be any survivors, but hope dies last,” said rescuer Nikos Zygouris.
Larissa Chief Coroner Roubini Leondari said 43 bodies had been brought to him for examination and would require DNA identification as they were largely disfigured.
“Most (of the bodies) are young people,” she told ERT. “They are in very poor condition.”
The government has declared three days of national mourning until Friday, with flags at half mast in tribute to the victims.