CHESTER — Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board on Monday arrived at the site of Saturday’s derailment of Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger train along Montana's Hi-Line. It happened about three miles west of the town of Joplin.
Three people died and dozens of people were injured in the derailment. Authorities have identified the victims as Donald and Marjorie Varnadoe, and Zack Schneider.
Five people were still hospitalized in stable condition, Governor Greg Gianforte said at a news conference on Sunday, adding that all others who needed medical attention have been released.
The train consisted of two locomotives and 10 cars, with seven of the cars derailing. Officials estimate the crash site to be around 500 yards in area and have not ruled anything out as to what caused the crash.
A point of focus for them is determining whether passengers were ejected from the train as has happened in previous crashes.
Officials also said the locomotive was equipped with a black box and are studying the footage “frame by frame” to determine what happened.
Bruce Landsberg, vice chairman for the NTSB, said at a news conference that they have 14 investigators from different departments working together to determine what caused the crash and how to prevent it from happening again.
“Our job is strictly to collect the facts and make the best assessment afterwards so we can prevent this in the future,” Landsberg said. “A very important part is our family assistance group that is going to help the victims and their families for as long as they need it.”
Landsberg added that NTSB will be at the site for about a week and will have a preliminary report available within 30 days.
The NTSB team consists of 14 investigators with expertise in:
- Rail operations
- Human performance
- Signal systems
- Survival factors
- Family assistance
The team is led by Investigator-In-Charge Jim Southworth, who has more than 25 years of experience in rail investigations.
An NTSB investigation typically looks not only at what occurred, but why and proposes recommendations to prevent future similar tragedies.