Rescuers comb the wreckage of Greece’s deadliest train crash

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TEMPE, Greece – Rescuers searched late Wednesday night for survivors amid the burning wreckage of two trains that collided in northern Greece, killing at least 43 people and ‘ carriages crumpled into knots of twisted steel in the country’s deadliest rail accident.

The impact just before midnight on Tuesday threw some passengers into the roofs and out the windows.

“My head hit the roof of the vehicle with the nose,” Stefanos Gogakos, who was in a rear car, told state broadcaster ERT. He said windows were smashed, showering cyclists with glass.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the collision between a passenger train and a freight train was “a terrible rail accident unprecedented in our country,” and promised a full independent investigation.

He said the crash appeared to be “largely the result of horrendous human error,” but did not elaborate.

The train from Athens to Thessaloniki was carrying 350 passengers, many of them students returning from the Carnival celebrations. While the track is double, the two trains were traveling in opposite directions on the same line near the Vale of Tempe, a river valley about 380 kilometers (235 miles) north of Athens.


Authorities arrested the station master at the train’s last stop, in the city of Larissa. They did not release the man’s name or the reason for his arrest, but the station master is responsible for rail traffic on that part of the tracks. He was due to appear before a prosecutor on Thursday to face official charges.

Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned, saying he was resigning “as a fundamental sign of respect for the memory of those who died so unjustly.”

Karamanlis said he had made “every effort” to improve a railway system that was “in a state that does not fit the 21st century.” “

However, he said, “When something like this happens, it’s impossible to carry on as if nothing had happened.

The union representing train workers announced a 24-hour strike for Thursday, and protests by left-wing groups in Athens began late Wednesday. Athens metro workers also called a 24-hour strike for Thursday, saying they face similar problems to rail workers.


Emergency workers used cranes and other heavy machinery to move large sections of the trains, revealing more bodies and remains. The work was to continue through the night, with firefighters working diligently through the wreckage.

“It is unlikely that people will live, but hope will die eventually,” said rescuer Nikos Zygouris.

The senior coroner of Larissa, Roubini Leondari, said that 43 bodies were brought to her for examination and that they needed DNA identification because they were mostly mutilated.

“Most (of the bodies) are young people,” she told ERT. “They are in bad shape.”

Greece’s fire service said 57 people were still in hospital late Wednesday, including six in intensive care. More than 15 others were released after receiving treatment.

More than 200 people who were unharmed or suffered minor injuries were taken by bus to Thessaloniki, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the north. The police gave their names when they arrived, in an attempt to trace anyone who might be missing.

Hellenic Train, which runs all of Greece’s passenger and freight trains, including those struck, offered its “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims. The company belongs to the Italian state railways.

Eight railway workers were among the dead, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, according to Yannis Nitsas, president of the Greek Railway Workers’ Union.

The union called the one-day strike to protest what it said was the continued neglect of Greece’s railways by successive governments.

“Unfortunately, our long-term demands for staff recruitment, better training and above all the use of modern safety technology are always in the waste paper basket,” he said in a statement.

Passengers say the train crash sounded like an explosion

A teenage survivor who did not give his name told reporters that just before the crash he felt sudden braking and saw sparks – and then came to a sudden stop.

“Our vehicle was not disabled, but the ones in front did and they were smashed,” he said, visibly shaken. He used a bag to break the window of his car, fourth, and fled.

Gogakos said the crash felt like an explosion, and that smoke entered the vehicle. He said some passengers escaped through windows but crew members were able to open the doors and let people out after a few minutes.

Several cars were removed, and at least one burst into flames.

“The temperature reached 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,372 degrees Fahrenheit), which makes it even more difficult to identify the occupants,” said fire service spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyiannis.

A man who was trying to find out the fate of his daughter, who was on the train, said that he had a harrowing phone conversation with her before she was cut off.

“She said to me, ‘We are on fire.’ My hair is burning,’” he told ERT, without giving his name.

Greece is going from Carnival to mourning

Many of the passengers were students returning to Thessaloniki from Carnival, but officials said a detailed passenger list was not available. This year was the first time that the festival, which precedes Lent, was celebrated in its entirety since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The government declared three days of national mourning from Wednesday, while flags flew at half-staff outside the European Commission buildings in Brussels.

Visiting the site of the accident, Prime Minister Mitsotakis said that the government must help the injured recover and identify the dead.

“I can promise one thing: we will find out the causes of this tragedy, and we will do everything in our power to prevent something like this from happening again,” Mitsotakis said.

This was the deadliest railway accident recorded in the country. In 1968, 34 people died in an accident in the southern Peloponnese region.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou broke off an official visit to Moldova to visit the scene, laying flowers next to the wreckage.

Pope Francis offered condolences to the families of the dead in a message sent by the Vatican secretary of state to the president of the Greek bishops’ conference,

Condolences poured in from around the world, including neighboring Turkey, Greece’s historic regional rival. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed grief and wishes for a speedy recovery for those injured, his office said.

Despite the frosty relationship between the two NATO members, the Greek leadership had summoned Erdogan last month after a major earthquake that killed tens of thousands in Turkey.

In Athens, hundreds of members of left-wing groups marched late Wednesday to protest the death of the trains. Small clashes broke out when some protesters threw stones at the offices of the Greek railway operator and riot police and set dumpsters on fire. No arrests or injuries were reported.

Paphitis was reported from Athens, Greece. Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Patrick Quinn and David Rising in Bangkok contributed to this story.

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