I'm sure those women burned to death: witness recalls train horror

04 January 2018 - 13:27 By Kyle Cowan
A Shosholoza Meyl train collided with a truck and a car in the Free State on Thursday.
A Shosholoza Meyl train collided with a truck and a car in the Free State on Thursday.
Image: Tiaan Esterhuizen

A passenger has recounted how he and other passengers tried to save three women trapped in a burning carriage of a Shosholoza Meyl train in the Free State.

Their efforts were to no avail‚ Tiaan Esterhuizen told TimesLIVE. Esterhuizen was returning to Gauteng from his holiday with eight family members. He said he was having breakfast in the restaurant car when he felt a massive jerk and heard screams.

Unbeknown to him at the time‚ the train had collided with a truck and a car.

“I rushed back to my wife‚ who was quite far back on the train. She was with our small baby but fortunately only the luggage had fallen off the racks and she had managed to cover him with her body‚” he said.

Esterhuizen then gathered his family and disembarked.

“I saw around 12 cars on their side and one was already burning. We heard some women screaming when we came closer‚ so a few of us climbed over the cars to investigate.”

He was greeted by a horrific scene. Three women were trapped by the mangled wreckage of the train car‚ unable to move.

“Two of the women were sort of on top of each other. Another was further back. Her legs were trapped. One of the women was shouting that there was a baby inside also‚” he said. “We searched but could not find the child.”

By that time the flames had become so fierce‚ he and the others were forced to retreat.

“We used some fire extinguishers the police had‚ but it didn’t work. I am quite sure those women burned to death‚” he said.

“It was a terrible‚ terrible experience.”

Netcare 911 tweeted that four fatalities and around 40 injuries were confirmed after the train had collided with a collided with a truck and a car between Hennenman and Kroonstad in the Free State on Thursday morning. Video footage circulating on social media showed a fierce blaze engulfing at least one carriage‚ with firefighters battling to bring the flames under control.

Esterhuizen described seeing passengers with burns on various parts of their bodies stumbling around the scene.

“One man’s back was burned‚ others just had singed clothing. I am not really sure how the car was also involved. But other passengers told me they heard the train blowing its horn for a long time before the collision.”

He said that uninjured passengers were sitting on the grass behind a police cordon‚ trying to find shade.

- Additional reporting by Karen van Rooyen