In rural Montana, it was all-hands-on-deck after derailment

In rural Montana, it was all-hands-on-deck after derailment


CHESTER, Mont. (AP) — Trevor Fossen was running late for a wedding Saturday afternoon when he turned onto a dusty, gravel road in rural Montana as a westbound train approached the crossing in front of him.

The train never made it to the crossing. The next thing Fossen saw was a wall of dust fill the sky.

“I started looking at that, wondering what it was, and then I saw the train had tipped over and derailed,” said Fossen, a 29-year-old farmer.

It was an Amtrak Empire Builder en route from Chicago to Seattle that had derailed, killing three people and injuring dozens of others. Investigators still don't know what caused the crash.

Fossen called 911, setting off a chain reaction of help from residents in the nearby towns of Joplin and Chester as people jumped into action to get people off the train, care for injured passengers and those who were stunned and had suffered bumps, bruises and other less serious injuries.

The regional response of volunteer emergency responders, firefighters, law enforcement, medical providers and regular citizens all working together to help those whose trip was so suddenly and violently interrupted embodied the spirit of a rural part of Montana near the Canadian border.

Fossen said he started to help first responders get a handful of people out of a train car that was leaning, then moved back to three cars that were detached from the train and were laying on their sides. He and others helped get a badly injured woman out of a car. Others helped unload the baggage car near the front of the train.

The three who didn’t survive were identified as Donald Varnadoe, 74, and Marjorie Varnadoe, 72, a married couple from Georgia; and Zachariah Schneider, a 29-year-old from Illinois. All were pronounced dead at the scene, the Liberty County Sheriff’s...

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