Investigation underway after trains collide in SC, killing 2 and - FOX Carolina 21

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Investigation underway after trains collide in SC, killing 2 and injuring more than 100

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Scene of fatal train derailment in Cayce, SC. (Source: County of Lexington) Scene of fatal train derailment in Cayce, SC. (Source: County of Lexington)
Scene of fatal train derailment in Cayce, SC. (2/4/18 FOX Carolina) Scene of fatal train derailment in Cayce, SC. (2/4/18 FOX Carolina)
Michael Kempf (Source: Family) Michael Kempf (Source: Family)
CAYCE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

A federal investigation is underway after two people were killed and 116 were injured following a train collision and derailment in the Midlands Sunday morning.

The collision took place near Charleston Highway and Pine Ridge Road in the Cayce area around 2:35 a.m. Officials say it involved Amtrak Train 91 which was operating between New York and Miami.

Amtrak officials say a CSX freight train came into contact with Amtrak Train 91, causing the lead engine to derail as well as some passenger cars. There were 8 crew members and approximately 139 passengers on board. Emergency responders were able to get all passengers off of the train.

The coroner said the two occupants who were killed in the collision were Amtrak employees. One was the Amtrak train engineer, 54-year-old Michael Kempf of Savannah, GA; the other person killed was the Amtrak conductor, 36-year-old Michael Cella from Orange Park, Florida.

Officials say the 116 passengers who were injured were transported to local hospitals with injuries ranging from small scratches and bumps to broken bones and head injuries.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board say the switch on the CSX track diverted the Amtrak train before the collision. They said they are trying to figure out why the switch was lined that way.

Coroner Margaret Fisher said considering the circumstances, there should have been more causalities.

"We should have had a lot more casualties, but we didn’t," said Fisher. "Anytime you have anything that happens like that, you expect more fatalities, but God blessed us.”

Palmetto Health, which received 62 patients after the crash, said they set up a triage to treat victims on scene as well as on the way to the hospital. As of Monday, six patients were still hospitalized at Palmetto Health, two of whom are in critical condition. The victims suffered solid organ or head injuries, officials confirmed.

The collision also resulted in two leaks of fuel from the trains. Officials estimate about 5,000 gallons spilled as a result. HAZMAT and DHEC are working to secure the leaks. There is no threat to the public, they say.

Officials confirm both trains sustained catastrophic damage.

SC Gov. Henry McMaster said the CSX freight train was stationary on the track when the Amtrack train that was heading south, struck the stationary freight train.

“To understand the force that’s involved between two trains, that’s about as forceful as you can get," said McMaster.

He said a thorough investigation is being conducted, but that it "appears the Amtrak was on the wrong track." He said it may have been a time factor, but that more will be confirmed as the investigation continues. For now, he asks for prayers for those affected.


Passengers react to crash

A passenger on the Amtrak train described the moments as the Amtrak train collided with the freight train early Sunday morning. He described it as being thrown from one side of the train and then back. He said his head was spinning and everything happened so fast.

The passenger said the feeling was very eerie and that it went completely silent before he heard the boom and then screams. He said he watched as parents held their children close to them, crying and panicking not knowing what to do.

He said he saw a lot of people who were not injured, helping those who were injured off of the train before crews arrived.

The passenger said his leg was injured in the collision, and he was put on crutches as he waited to be evaluated.

Another passenger said he and his wife were both thrown around during the crash and that she ended up a few rows up from him after the crash.

He said it was the scariest moment of his life when he looked over and saw she wasn't there, but he was relieved when he saw her a few rows up. He said they both were okay.

The daughter of one of the passengers on the train said her mother sustained a foot injury, but that she was going to be okay. She said she was headed to Jacksonville, Florida to spend time with her grandchildren when the crash occurred.

She said she traveled to Cayce, SC from Kingsland, GA to pick her up and make sure she's okay.

“As long as she’s okay, I’m okay," she said.

Continuing investigation

The NTSB said officials would hold a news conference at 4 p.m. Monday with the latest on the investigation.

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