Train hits truck that slid onto track in Taiwan, killing 51

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Rescue workers recover a body from a derailed train near the Taroko Gorge area in Hualien, Taiwan on Friday, April 2, 2021. The train partially derailed in eastern Taiwan on Friday after colliding with an unmanned vehicle that had rolled down a hill, killing and injuring dozens. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

TAIPEI – A train barreled into an unmanned truck that had rolled onto the track Friday in Taiwan, leaving at least 51 people dead and dozens injured in the island's deadliest rail disaster. Many passengers were crushed, while some survivors were forced to climb out of windows and walk along the train’s roof to safety.

The truck’s emergency brake was not properly engaged, according to the government’s disaster relief center, and the vehicle slid about 20 meters (65 feet) down a hillside. Minutes later, the train’s lead car crashed into it, according to Railways Administration official Weng Hui-ping, just before the train entered a tunnel.

The train, which was carrying more than 400 people, derailed near the Taroko Gorge scenic area on the first day of a long holiday weekend when many people were using Taiwan's extensive rail system, including many families with children. Images from the scene showed the train's cars wedged against the tunnel's walls. Part of the wall of one car had smashed into a seat.

“Many people were crushed under train seats in the collision. And there were other people on top of the seats. So those at the bottom were pressed and crushed and lost consciousness," a passenger with gauze taped to her elbow told Taiwanese broadcaster EBC, which did not show her face or give her name. "At the beginning, they still responded when we called them. But I guess they lost consciousness afterward.”

The National Fire Service confirmed the death toll — which included the train's young, newly married driver and the assistant driver — and said more than 100 people were injured.

The service earlier said all passengers had been accounted for, but a spokesperson later said there may be more bodies trapped in the mangled cars and the death toll may still rise. The spokesperson spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release the information to media.

Weng, of the Railways Administration, called the crash Taiwan’s deadliest rail disaster.

He said a construction truck whose owner was a contractor for the administration slid from a work site above the track. No one was in the truck at the time. An investigation has been launched, and Hualien police have interviewed one person, Weng said.