Family fears missing loved ones died in train crash

2018-01-07 06:03
A police officer and his dog searching for the bodies of passengers who died when a train caught fire and derailed after colliding with a side-tipper truck in Kroonstad. To date, 19 people have been confirmed dead. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

A police officer and his dog searching for the bodies of passengers who died when a train caught fire and derailed after colliding with a side-tipper truck in Kroonstad. To date, 19 people have been confirmed dead. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

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A family that is desperately searching for four loved ones who were on board the train involved in a fatal crash near Kroonstad this week have no idea whether their relatives’ bodies are among the charred corpses at a morgue in Virginia, Free State.

The Thulo family told City Press they went to three hospitals near the scene of the accident, where the victims of the crash had been taken, in a bid to find their missing relatives.

They also plucked up enough courage to go to the crash site where the 15-carriage train was being searched.

Zanele Mambale (37), Motshidisi Thulo (34), Anele Thulo (9) and Sibongile Thulo (5) boarded the Shosholoza Meyl train in Virginia on Thursday morning at 07:15.

The train had been travelling from Port Elizabeth and was headed to Johannesburg.

The incident occurred when a truck driver made an “untimely crossing” and was hit by the train as it was travelling between the towns of Hennenman and Kroonstad.

“They don’t appear in any of the lists shown to us.

“We were told to wait until Monday when the forensic pathologists have done their tests,” said Motshidisi’s cousin, Modiehi.

Despite being warned the remains that were sent for processing were burnt beyond recognition, the family still went to the morgue in search of their relatives.

City Press found several family members driving around the area in a packed car.

They were one of many families who were looking for their missing loved ones.

Some walked helplessly around the accident scene on Friday, hoping to find answers.

President Jacob Zuma sent his condolences to the families of the deceased, describing the accident as “a painful start to the new year for the nation”.

Zuma said: “It has caused great shock and distress.

“We appeal to all road users across the country to observe discipline‚ patience and be vigilant at all times as they travel back to their respective destinations over this holiday period.

“Such loss of life should be prevented by all road users by observing the rules of the road at all times.”

The Thulos were not the only ones who were hoping to find their loved ones at the crash site.

Another family, which was too traumatised to speak, was searching for their seven-year-old relative.

To date, Free State’s emergency management and pathology services death toll stands at 19. Eight men, five women, four girls, and two undetermined individuals died in the collision.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) said approximately 164 passengers were hospitalised, with two still in need of medical assistance.

On Friday, emergency services personnel braved the sweltering heat to search through the wreckage in hopes of unearthing more bodies and removing what was left of the train.

Eyewitnesses, who rushed to the scene as soon as they saw the commotion, described how one mother threw her two children out of a window in a desperate attempt to save their lives.

Tiaan Esterhuizen, one of the first witnesses at the scene, told TimesLive he tried to rescue three women who were trapped in the burning passenger wagon.

“We heard a few women screaming when we got closer, so a few of us climbed over the vehicles.

“Two of the women were on top of each other. Another was further back.

“Her legs were trapped. One was shouting that there was a baby stuck inside,” he said.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Motansti Makhele confirmed a case of culpable homicide had been opened.

Makhele said the truck driver was released after he was taken in for blood tests.

Of the 713 passengers in the train, 23 people were critically injured and had been taken by ambulance to hospitals around the area.

Another 227 victims were assisted at the scene and taken to surrounding hospitals while another four were airlifted to Kroonstad.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport also sent their condolences to the grieving families.

Dikeledi Magadzi, the committee’s chairperson, said: “The anguish is beyond measure.

“As a country, we are struggling with a high number of road crashes, and this one involving a train caught us all by surprise.

“The committee would like to plead vigilance especially among drivers of motor vehicles as we are approaching the end of the festive season.”

It took about two days for Transnet and emergency services workers to lift the train.

Some of the carriages were overturned during the crash and were lying on their side.

The rescue team was working under the assumption that survivors were trapped under the wreckage.

A skull was retrieved on Friday morning after passengers had been removed from the scene.

Clean-up and restoration operations were still under way at the site yesterday.

The department of transport and Prasa have set up walk-in and call centres to assist the families affected by the accident.

The call centre’s number is 011 013 0067 and will operate 24 hours a day. The walk-in centre, located at Prasa’s Umjantshi House in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, next to Park Station, will open tomorrow at 08:00.


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