Witness tells of train crash horror
Hlengiwe Mnguni, News24
Cape Town – Watching a minibus taxi start to drive over the Buttskop level crossing from just behind the boom, a Cape Town woman thought the driver surely wanted to commit suicide - and was by himself.
"I really thought he was committing suicide. I thought he was all alone in the taxi. I mean the train was so close," the woman who wanted to remain unnamed, told News24.
The mother of one, who is still recovering from shock, was on her way to work with her fiancé on Wednesday morning when they stopped at the level crossing, not far from their house, as warning lights flashed red.
"The boom was not down at the time," she said. "I was first in the queue but I stopped."
She described how the taxi came from behind and overtook all the stationary cars on the left like taxis at that particular crossing "always do".
"I told my fiancé, 'I really hope he doesn't go over'," she said.
But he did.
"First I heard the siren then, boom!
"The taxi threw every child out of the taxi."
The woman said although she had spoken to her fiancé, whom she usually drives with, many times about the reckless driving of taxi drivers at that spot, she had never imagined she would witness this.
"Every morning I say, 'Something's gonna happen here'. The taxi drivers are irresponsible, they never want to wait."
She said on the occasions that she takes a taxi and complains about drivers swerving past the booms, she has been threatened by drivers who tell her to never get on their taxis.
After she got out of her car, she found only the man she assumed was the injured driver and no one else in the taxi, the woman said. She called 10111.
"I walked around the taxi to see if it was only him. When I got around the taxi I saw the children lying on top of each other in a heap. It was horrible."
When a policeman who had arrived on the scene told her to help keep a girl who was still moving from getting up, the woman was unaware that it was Eerster Rivier rape survivor Liezel August, who was raped and set on fire in 2007. She was subsequently christened "Little Rock" for her resilience.
"I didn't know it was her. I recognised her in the paper this (Thursday) morning.
"I held her hand and told her, 'Don't move. Help is coming'," she said.
"When I looked to my right I saw a boy. There was so much blood coming out of his mouth."
The Cape Town resident said she thought of her own 10-year-old son who also uses public transport everyday on his way to school.
"That's why I was crying so much," she told News24. "Everyone was crying."
She said she is still so traumatised by the incident that she closes her ears when she hears the train.
"My house is so close to the station. When it comes by I have to close my ears because when I hear the siren, it's as if I'm going to hear that boom gain."
On Thursday police said 11-year-old August, Nadine Martinissen, aged 13, Michaela de Koker, aged 11, Jody Phillips, aged 13, Cody Erasmus, aged 15, Jason Pedro, aged 14, Reece Smith, aged 7, Nolan February, aged 13, and 13-year-old Jean Pierre Willeman were the nine children who died in the accident.
Of the five children who were hospitalised, the Western Cape health department said earlier on Thursday that one has been discharged from Tygerberg Hospital, a second who had been at the same hospital was transferred to Kuils River and was expected to be discharged as well.
Two boys - aged 15 and 9 - had undergone surgery at Tygerberg Hospital and were in a stable condition, the department said. Although the 9-year-old boy taken to Red Cross Hospital on Wednesday morning was in ICU, he was in a stable condition.
The driver of the taxi was reportedly a private hospital in Kuils River in a serious but stable condition.
Police are investigating a case of culpable homicide.
- Were you there? Anything to share?