BRETIGNY-SUR-ORGE, France – A train carrying hundreds of passengers derailed and crashed into a station outside Paris Friday on one of the busiest days of the year for vacation getaways. At least six people were killed and dozens were injured, officials said.
The crash was the deadliest in France in several years. French President Francois Hollande rushed to the scene at the Bretigny-sur-Orge station, 12 miles south of Paris. The Interior Ministry said some 192 people were either injured or being treated for shock – of which nine were in a critical condition.
Four of the seven train cars slid toward the station, crushing part of the metallic roof over the platform. Images on French television and on Twitter showed gnarled metal and shards on the platform, and debris from the crash clogging the stairwell leading beneath the platform.
Some 300 firefighters, 20 medical teams and eight helicopters were deployed to get survivors out of the metal wreckage, according to the Interior Ministry.
The accident came as France is preparing to celebrate its most important national holiday, Bastille Day, Sunday, and as masses of vacationers are heading out of Paris and other big cities to see family or for summer vacation.
Hollande praised “the mobilization of the emergency services,” and reached out in “solidarity with the victims’ families.” He said an inquiry has been launched to determine the cause of the accident.
“The inquiries will be public so that there is absolutely no doubt on what happened,” he added.
Witnesses reported that the train was not moving at an excessive speed, deepening the mystery of what happened.
“I think it’s genuinely too early to start to give this or that hypothesis. Now, we’re still in the emergency operation,” said Interior Ministry spokesman, Pierre-Henry Brandet. “There’s some long work ahead from experts that will allow us to know the exact circumstances and the exact causes of this drama.”
Ben Khelifa, a 20-year-old accounting apprentice whose commuter train was on the adjacent track, told the Associated Press that the derailed train “was unrecognizable.
“There was nothing but metal scraps,” he said. “The train just collapsed, just like that, on its side... There was blood.”
He added that he was one of a number of passengers in the adjacent train that went to help pull trapped survivors out of the wreckage. “People were screaming, people were asking where their children were,” he said.
Another witness, Bazgua El Mehdi, 19, told Le Parisien newspaper: “I heard a loud noise. A cloud of sand covered everything. Then the dust dissipated. I thought it was a freight train, but then we saw the first casualties ... Many passengers on the (train) were crying.”
It was unclear whether all the casualties were inside the train, or whether some had been on the platform, or how fast the train was traveling. The head of the SNCF rail authority, Guillaume Pepy, called it a “catastrophe.”
The train’s third and fourth cars initially derailed, which then knocked the other cars off the track, Pepy said. “Some cars simply derailed, others are leaning, others fell over,” he said.
The Interior Ministry said six people died in the crash and nine were in critical condition. Earlier, Interior Minister Manuel Valls had said seven people died.
The SNCF said the train was carrying about 385 passengers when it derailed Friday evening at 5:15 p.m. (1515 GMT; 11:15 a.m. EDT) and crashed into the station at Bretigny-sur-Orge.
The train was headed from Paris to Limoges, a 250-mile journey, and was about 20 minutes into the scheduled three-hour journey.
A passenger speaking on France’s BFM television said the train was going at a normal speed and wasn’t meant to stop at Bretigny-sur-Orge. He described children unattended in the chaotic aftermath.
Trains operations have been suspended in Bretigny-sur-Orge for the next three days.