At least 43 people have died in a train crash in Greece, with the country’s prime minister saying the disaster appeared to be mainly down to “tragic human error”.
The search continues for survivors after a passenger service collided with a freight train carrying shipping containers and travelling in the opposite direction but on the same track at speeds believed to be up to 100mph.
Carriages derailed and then burst into flames in Greece‘s deadliest rail crash in living memory. Temperatures in one carriage rose to 1,300C (2,370F) after it caught fire.
Some passengers kicked through windows to escape the inferno late on Tuesday, while others were thrown 40 metres due to the impact of the crash.
The passenger service had left Athens and was heading to the northern city of Thessaloniki when the collision happened near the central town of Larissa, 200 miles north of the capital.
Many of the victims were thought to be university students returning home after a long holiday weekend.
Some 57 people remain in hospital, with six of them in intensive care, while 15 others have been discharged, according to the country’s fire service.
The passenger train was said to be carrying around 350 passengers. More than 200 people who were left unharmed were taken by buses to Thessaloniki.
Stergios Minenis, 28, who jumped to safety from the wreckage, said: “There was panic… The fire was immediate. As we were turning over we were being burned, fire was right and left.”
‘People were screaming’
A passenger, who escaped from the fifth carriage, told Skai TV: “Windows were being smashed and people were screaming… One of the windows caved in from the impact of iron from the other train.”
Another said: “There was fire next to us. We found a hole and from there we managed to get out. The wagon started to spin, and then it ended up on its side and we got out.
“It was a nightmarish 10 seconds, in the flames. There was panic in the carriage, you couldn’t see around you because of the smoke.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called it “a horrific rail accident without precedent in our country,” as he promised a full, independent investigation.
He said it appeared the crash was “mainly due to a tragic human error,” but did not give further details.
A station master was arrested as investigators tried to work out why the two trains had been on the same track “for many kilometres”, while the country’s transport minister Kostas Karamanlis has resigned.
Eight rail employees were among those killed, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, according to Greek Railroad Workers Union president Yannis Nitsas.
The rescue operation will continue into the night, with heavy machinery needed to move the huge train carcasses, so crews can painstakingly search through the wreckage.
“It’s unlikely there will be survivors, but hope dies last,” said rescuer Nikos Zygouris.
Larissa’s chief coroner, Roubini Leondari, said 43 bodies had been brought to her for examination, and would require DNA identification as they were largely disfigured.
“Most (of the bodies) are young people,” she told ERT. “They are in very bad condition.”
The government declared three days of national mourning until Friday, with flags flying at half-mast in a tribute to the victims.