Final survivor pulled from train wreckage

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

AMAGASAKI, Japan -- At least he was alive.

Hours after Japan's worst train crash in decades, rescue teams found Hiroki Hayashi in an open space in the wreckage with his legs badly hurt, but he was still conscious.

Workers, however, faced a major hurdle: they couldn't get the 19-year-old college student out. Rescuers could pass him water and put him on an intravenous drip, but he was pinned down by slabs of metal and the bodies of victims.

Firefighters feared sparks from an electric drill would ignite spilled fuel.

"We had to use hydraulic-equipped machines to pry open a space," said Hideki Maeda of the Amagasaki Fire Department.

Early Tuesday, rescuers finally freed Hayashi from the wreckage 22 hours after the crash in Amagasaki in western Japan, the final survivor pulled from the shattered train. The death toll increased by nine to 90 today as more bodies were recovered, the Kyodo news agency said. At least 456 people were injured.

"He really endured a lot, despite hours of pain," firefighter Shohei Matsuda said.

Hayashi's survival was remarkable considering the devastation of the accident. Cruising at a reported speed of 65 mph, the commuter train hit a curve in Amagasaki, 250 miles west of Tokyo, and tumbled from the tracks. The speed limit was 43 mph.

Several cars of the train smashed into an apartment house just beside the rails, with the flattened shell of one wrapped around the corner of the building. The crash was Japan's deadliest train disaster since 1963.

On Tuesday, agents swept through eight offices of train operator West Japan Railway Co., carting away cardboard boxes of documents. The probe into possible professional negligence has focused on the actions of the 23-year-old driver -- who has not yet been accounted for -- and the speed of the train.

Investigators examining the accident site said they had found the train's "black box," a computer chip that stores information about the time and train's speed in the final seconds before an accident. But they cautioned it would take time to analyze the contents.

The seven-car train was packed with 580 passengers at the time of the accident near this Osaka suburb. Monday's accident was the worst rail disaster in nearly 42 years in this safety-conscious country, which is home to one of the world's most complex, efficient and heavily traveled rail networks.

The driver -- identified as Ryujiro Takami -- got his train operator's license in May 2004. One month later, he overran a station and was issued a warning for his mistake, railway officials and police said.

Investigators said the driver may have been shaken after overrunning the station just before the crash by 130 feet and falling 90 seconds behind schedule. Speculation was high that the driver may have been rushing to make up lost time.

Hayashi was panicked between the crash and his rescue.

"I'm in pain, I can't take it anymore," he told his mother in a cell phone call while trapped in the wreck, according to his 18-year-old brother, Takamichi Hayashi.

Victims' relatives and friends struggled to comprehend their loss. Eri Kusuhara, 19, came to the local morgue after hearing that her freshman college classmate, Kyosuke Heguri, had died.

"Even after hearing many times that he died, I still can't believe it, so I had to come here to see if it's true," she said, her eyes brimming with tears. "It's such a shame that he died, now that we've passed our entrance exams and can finally enjoy ourselves."

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