West Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Federal investigators say a train track switch was in the wrong position, putting an Amtrak train on the wrong course, leading it to collide with a parked CSX freight train, killing two and injuring 116 others in the process.
National Transportation Chairman Robert Sumwalt gave an update on the crash that happened early Sunday morning in Lexington County, South Carolina.
Sumwalt said the switch was supposed to allow the Amtrak train to continue traveling in a roughly a straight line. Instead, it took it off to a siding track where the CSX train was parked.
"For whatever reason, the switch was lined and locked, aligned for the train to be diverted into the sidiing," Sumwalt said. "Key to this investigation is learning why it was lined that way."
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster says the two deaths are employees of Amtrak. Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher identified the men as 54-year-old Michael Kempf of Savannah, Georgia and 36-year-old Michael Cella of Orange Park, Florida.
Kempf was the engineer, while Cella was the conductor.
Related Coverage: Amtrak Conductor Remembered by His Friend
"They were fine employees," said Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson. "Our first responsibility is to take care of the victims’ families and those in the train when the accident happened."
The collision happened at 2:35 a.m., near Charleston Highway and Pine Ridge Road.
Amtrak says Train 91 was operating between New York and Miami, and came in contact with a CSX freight train. The passenger line says the lead engine derailed, as well as some passenger cars.
Sumwalt said the Amtrak train had a locomotive and 7 passenger cars, while the CSX train had two locomotives and 34 empty auto railcars.
In fact, the train had earlier finished unloading its cargo of vehicles, and was parked at its location for the night.
Sumwalt said they've recovered a forward facing video recorder, and that's already been sent back to Washington, D.C. The event data recorders, commonly called the "black box" devices, have not yet been recovered.
He says their early into their probe, and they're just trying to collect any evidence that they could lose immediately.
"We just want to collect the factual, perishable evidence, the information that goes away over a period of time," Sumwalt said.
"We are cooperating fully with the NTSB, which is leading the investigation, as well as working with FRA and CSX," Amtrak said. "CSX owns and controls the Columbia Subdivision where the accident occurred. CSX maintains all of the tracks and signal systems. CSX controls the dispatching of all trains, including directing the signal systems which control the access to sidings and yards."
Related Coverage: SC Governor Says Train was on the Wrong Track
In an afternoon conference call, Anderson said his company's train was traveling at approximately 60 miles an hour. He admits the train was running behind schedule, but said the train was not speeding because they were late.
"There was nothing different going on this run," Anderson said. "Safety is our priority."
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences around midday.
"My thoughts and prayers are with all the victims in this mornings train collision in South Carolina," Trump said. "Thank you to our incredible First Responders for the work they've done."
There were at total of nine crew members and approximately 139 passengers on board. Amtrak has set up a hotline where family can get information about people involved: 1-800-523-9101.
McMaster says 116 of the injured have been transported to local hospitals, and officials confirm everyone has been removed from the trains.
Palmetto Health hospitals confirmed they received a total of 62 patients. Lexington Medical Center said they had received 27 patients, all with minor injuries, and they are all being discharged.
One person at Palmetto Heath was in critical condition, while two were in serious condition.
Adam Myrick with the Lexington County Sheriff's Department says injuries to other passengers range from small scratches to severe broken bones.
There were fuel leaks from the train, and approximately 5,000 gallons spilled, but Lexington County Spokesperson Harrison Cahill says those have been secured, and there is no threat to the public.
Emergency officials opened a shelter for passengers at Pine Ridge Middle school for passengers. There, they were given food and some of their luggage was brought to them. Later, buses were seen taking them on to another destination.
The Red Cross spent the day assisting the affected passengers.