Hurricane, AK Train Collision, July 1975


Anchorage, Alaska (AP) -- Eleven persons remained hospitalized in Anchorage today, three of them in serious condition, following the worst train wreck in Alaska history Saturday.
None of the hospitalized persons was from the Fairbanks area.
Sixty-three of the 230 passengers aboard the Alaska Railroad passenger train from Fairbanks to Anchorage were injured when a nine-car freight train slammed into the rear of the passenger train.
The collision occurred near Hurricane Gulch south of McKinley Park at about 4 p.m. The passenger trail had halted for a routine stop to allow pasengers to photograph Mt. McKinley. The passenger train was starting to roll again whenit was hit, railroad spokesman D. L. Allen, assistant general manager, said.
Allen said the cause of the accident has not been determined. He said Alaska Railroad trains are equipped with radios to enable crews to talk between cars, between trains and wit dispatch offices up and down the Anchorage-Fairbanks railbelt.
Allen declined comment today on whether the engineer or brakeman aboard the freight train had been suspended following the accident.
"I can't comment on that," he told the News-Miner. "We've got these union rules and civil service."
Passenger service between Fairbanks and Anchorage resumed today after huge cranes completed clearing the single tracks Sunday night that link Alaska's two largest cities.
Two investigators from the National Safety Transportation Board in Washington, D.C. were at the crash scene today. Railroad investigators also were probing the accident.
Allen said the railroad may have to scrap the vista-domac which was severely damaged in the crash. He said the car "folded like an accordian." The car is worth about $270,000, he said. He added that the federally-owned railroad believes the othr cars can be repaired.
Some of the cars on the freight train originated in Fairbanks. The train was made up in Healy and left Healy on Saturday before the passenger train. Allen said the freight train pulled off at a siding at Colorado Station to allow the passenger train to pass. The collision occurred about 18 miles later.
The accident scrambled nearly 400 medical personnel into a disaster plan. The 63 injured persons were airlifted by six military helicopters to Anchorage from the crash site about 100 air miles north of the city. Most of the injured were treated and released by noon Sunday.
One traveler, who asked that he not be identified, told the Associated Press, he first believed that the freight train was on a side track when it approached the passenger train.
But the passenger said he quickly realized he was wrong.
"I said to myself, 'that son of a gun is going to plow right into the train ....' there was no whistle and I saw the gap closing, ducked back and wham."
A railroad spokesman said the speeds of the two trains at the tim of the collision is unknown, but he estimated that the freight train was traveling at less than 30 miles an hour.
A doctor who happened to be riding the train administered first-aid while train employes cut the backs off seats and removed windows in preparation for the arrival of para-medics and doctors.
Some of the injured were lifted out of the train aboard litters gently lowered through windows.
The three passengers listed in serious condition today were being treated at Elmendorf AFB.
ARTHUR K. WILLIAMSON, of Hemet, Calif., was listed in serious condition.
PISCILLA ALFELD of Renmar, Pa, listed as serious but improving condition.
ANN ANCEVINO, of Pine Brook, N.J., listed as serious but improving condition.
Listed in good condition at Elmendorf were:
MARION L. LACH, of Buffalo, N.Y.
LILLIAN J. SWED, of La Mesa, Calif.
OTTO B. LIERSCH, of Paradise, Calif.
ROBERT SMALL, of Anchorage.
ADELINE SULLIVAN, of Richmond, Calif.
Listed in satisfactory condition at Providence Hospital were:
VIRGINIA HEADLEY, of San Jose, Calif.
LOLA GASTON, of Southaven, Mich.
CHARLES CURTIS, of Wasilla, Ak.
Two other patients at Providence, ROCCO GIOVANO of Foxboro, Mass., and WILBUR RANDALL of Post Falls,Idaho, were discharged this morning.
Marjorie Lach of Buffalo, whose husband is hospitalized, told newsmen Saturday that aboard the train "things were handled beautifully ... everybody helped out and there was no panic anywhere."
She added with a grin, "The first thing you should know, though, is that Mt. McKinley was out in all her glory."
Passengers who weren't injured in Saturday's crash were taken to Anchorage in buses.
Railroad spokesman Allen said the train crash was the worst in Alaska history.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Alaska 1975-07-07