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Execution in North Korea; Philadelphia Train Crash; Amtrak Passengers Forced to Find Other Travel. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 13, 2015 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:07] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A train derails, killing at least seven people. Now the NTSB says the train was speeding more than 100 miles per hour around a 50-mile-per-hour curve.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, investigators rushing to piece together why and how the Amtrak train went airborne, all seven of its cars careening off the tracks. The engineer, the driver of the train, somehow survived. Now officials want to know, was he really slinging around this curve in excess of 100 miles an hour? And, if so, why?

The images are nightmarish enough, but today a clearer picture of the truer tragedy, at least seven killed in the crash. But with eight still in critical condition and others still missing, it very well could get worse.

And the world lead. Falling asleep on the job should probably earn you a demerit at work. But when your boss is Kim Jong-un, you apparently get a bizarre death sentence instead. A startling report says North Korea's Dear Leader had one of his top officials executed in public.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Straight to the breaking news this hour. We now know at least seven people are dead and more remain missing after an Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., headed to New York City careened off the rails just outside of Philadelphia.

And now the National Transportation Safety Board says preliminary data indicates that train was traveling as much as 50 miles per hour faster than the recommended speed around that curve. Surveillance video shows Train 188, its 238 passengers and five crew members on board pulling away just minutes before the normal routine ride took a deadly turn.

Once the lead car hit a curve at the Frankford Junction, something went terribly wrong. The aftermath shows coils linking the cars together popped off like bottle caps, steel smashed inward, glass and luggage spilled onto the dirt. Passengers recorded video from their cell phone cameras from inside the train as they rushed to escape the wreckage.

Several people say the sudden event knocked them unconscious and they woke up against the glass, their train car flung upon its side.

CNN's Rene Marsh is on the ground in Philadelphia.

Rene, we heard from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, saying we still do not know what happened here. We also heard him say police have interviewed the engineer. Sources are telling you that investigators believe he had the train was traveling way, way too fast, the NTSB making that announcement just minutes ago.

What led them to that conclusion?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, while I talk to you, it is still a search operation here. But, meantime, there's a full-blown investigation under way.

As you mentioned, we now know that train was going in excess of 100 miles per hour as it approached a curve that had a speed limit of 50 miles per hour. The reason why investigators know this, they are looking at how the wreckage is laid out at the site, looking at the angles. They're also looking at the sort of damage to the train cars. And we also know they have the train's event recorders.

The question now, though, is why was this train going so fast?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where am I crawling to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crawl forward, sir.


MARSH (voice-over): Passengers making a desperate escape from New York-bound Amtrak Train 188.

BETH DAVIDZ, SURVIVOR: The car started to fill with smoke. So, obviously, we were all trying to get out of the car. I remember somebody in the car just saying, you know, stay calm.

MARSH: According to a source briefed by investigators, the train was traveling over 100 miles per hour as it approached a curve with a 50- mile-per-hour speed limit. Seven cars jumped the tracks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Notify Amtrak to shut down the entire Northeast Corridor. We have a major event here.

MARSH: Emergency responders rushed to the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have people on the tracks and a couple of cars overturned.

MARSH: People on board say, as the train passed through Philadelphia and negotiated the turn, the train started to shake. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were in the front seat. And this huge red

suitcase just came flying at me. Our train was actually on its side. So it pushed me onto the side of the train.

MARSH: Video obtained by CNN shows the train moments before the fatal crash. You see it passing by, then flashes of light.

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: As we know it often referred to as a black box, that has been recovered. It is now in the Amtrak operations center in Delaware for analysis.

MARSH: The train's recorders will tell investigators exactly how fast the train was traveling.

Back at the site, the primary focus hours after the fatal crash is the recovery operation.

[16:05:04] DAVIDZ: At first, I was just like kind of like, whoa, what just happened kind of thing, and just -- I mean, just being glad that you're like -- it stopped, you're alive. OK, now what?


MARSH: Now, back to that engineer, we know that he was injured, but he received medical attention.

We also know that he gave a statement to the police here in Philadelphia. We don't know what was in that statement, what he said to police. But we do know he is now a sharp focus, very much in focus for investigators here as they try to figure out what went wrong, Jake.

TAPPER: Something indeed went very, very wrong. Rene Marsh in Philadelphia, thank you so much.

As Rene just said, the situation remains very much ongoing. Six area hospitals have treated more than 200 patients. Hospital officials say that some victims had injuries ranging from cracked ribs to collapsed lungs. About half of the people treated have now been released. But eight remain in critical condition at the hospital of Temple University. Others remain missing.

I want to go to the crash site now and Erin McLaughlin.

Erin, rescue efforts have been ongoing all day, of course, throughout the night as well. How close are officials there to clearing the scene?


Well, they're simply not at that point yet, the search very much ongoing. The area actually expanded last night. They brought out sniffer dogs and then it expanded again in the early hours of this morning. They're still looking for anyone who could potentially, they say, have been thrown from the train. And that's because all 243 people that they believe may have been on

board have yet to be accounted for. Now, there could be several other reasons for that. There could be that some people simply walked away from the crash site. It also could be that some people who were supposed to have been on the train, who had tickets for the train didn't actually board the train.

But, looking at that wreckage, it does seem absolutely incredible that anyone could have walked away. I spoke to one passenger, Jeff Kutler, who described for me the moment of impact.


JEFF KUTLER, SURVIVOR: There's this split-second where, to me, it felt like the car was lifting off the ground. It was lifting off the rail. It was -- there was a -- we were going through a curve. And whatever speed it was going at pushed it out and pushed it up and we just flew. It almost felt like flying, but it wasn't the right kind of flying.

And it hit with a thud.


MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he says he was later brought to the hospital with other victims on board police vans because there simply weren't enough ambulances to tend to all the wounded. He also says that he would ride Amtrak again, Jake.

TAPPER: Erin McLaughlin, thank you so much.

So, how did this trip that was all too routine for many people on board end in such a spectacular tragedy?

Our own Tom Foreman is in the virtual studio with a look at how a crash like this could happen -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we have been hearing about speed all day. And the reason we have been hearing about speed, even before they went through the data and everything else, is because there were early indications that that might be in play.

Look at this surveillance video that Rene made mention of a minute ago. If you watch the train go through right up here and you compare the length of one car or the locomotive to a fix point, it's simple math to see that just 200 yards away from where the train would crash, it was traveling substantially faster than it should have been.

So, let's bring in a model of the train and talk about why that would matter so much. A train like this is a very substantial bit of mass moving down the tracks here. The engine alone is going to be around 97 metric tons. That's pushing up toward 250,000 pounds. At 50 miles an hour, what you're going to see with a train like this and all of that is a good bit of weight pushing over that way, the same as when you go around a corner in your car. It wants to pull your over. But you push this up to 100 miles an hour, and then that force gets

much, much stronger, maybe not enough to make this locomotive come leaping off the tracks, because it weighs so much, but what about the rest of the car back there, where the passengers are? You heard that gentleman a moment ago talk about feeling like they were flying.

These back here are much lighter than the locomotive up front. And when that motion happens, it's like taking a garden hose and whipping it. It may be anchored here, but the back of it really starts to sling. And we know it because we have seen it before. Look at the Spanish train crash from a couple of years back. Again, the train was supposed to be going 50 miles an hour, instead, much faster.

And watch how the locomotive essentially just whips the passenger cars off behind it and they in turn pull it off. Jake, this is why it was so easy for people to start talking about speed early on, because this accident fit the pattern.

[16:10:03] We still have a whole investigation to complete, but, right now, that's why speed keeps coming to the forefront -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Robert Halstead, a railroad accident forensics specialist, along with former vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board Bob Francis.

Thanks to both you gentlemen for joining us.

Mr. Francis, let me start with you. The NTSB now saying that this train, according to initial data analysis, was going in excess of 100 miles an hour around this 50-mile-an-hour curve. Some passengers also said before the crash it felt like the train was moving excessively fast.

Assuming that information is correct -- and this is obviously early information -- would this suggest that speed was the major, if not the only factor in this accident?

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB VICE CHAIR: It certainly is a good candidate for the bottom -- for the top of the pile.

Obviously, there will be a lot more analysis done of the scene, et cetera, et cetera. But double the speed on a obviously difficult curve is certainly a candidate for being right up there.

TAPPER: Mr. Halstead, we just watched CNN's Tom Foreman show us the physics of this, 100 miles an hour vs. 50 in a crash like this. What's your experienced -- experience in similar crashes?

ROBERT HALSTEAD, RAILROAD ACCIDENT FORENSICS EXPERT: Well, right off the bat, looking at the size of the debris field that we had here, the fact that we had a passenger car that was bent virtually in half and the entire train itself was located a significant distance from the track it was riding on, all those factors combine to give me the initial impression at least that this was a fairly high-speed derailment.

We're not talking 20 to 30 miles per hour. We're talking something significantly higher than that.

TAPPER: Bob Halstead, let me stay with you for a sec. We know many people don't follow speed limits in their cars. I have certainly been guilty of that in the past. How often are engineers driving in excess of the speed limit? Is it that unusual to bend these rules?

HALSTEAD: Well, speed limits on a railroad are very different than those on a highway. We're all familiar driving along an expressway, you can get away with 10 miles per hour or 12 miles per hour above the limit, and the police aren't going to give you a whole lot of attention. Very different in the railroad environment.

If an engineer is caught traveling in excess of 10 miles per hour above maximum authorized speed, that is a decertification event. And with that, a railroad administration can immediately pull his federal license based on that and that alone.

And then, you know, also in addition to licensure issues, you have simply the extreme increase in kinetic energy that you have when you start adding on miles per hour above what the track and signal system is designed for.

TAPPER: And, Bob Francis, you were talking about what the wreckage looks like. Give us a little bit more information about what it might tell you when you look at this mess, this tragic disaster in Philadelphia. What's your gut tell you about what happened here?

FRANCIS: Well, I think that it will confirm where the recorders are saying in terms of the speed. And it will show pretty precisely exactly where it went off on -- presumably on the curve.

And it tells you a lot about the crash -- crashworthiness of the cars, where people were sitting and where they ended up. There's a whole lot of information there. And I think one would hope that the rail systems in this country would take a good look at this, because, as you probably know, this is not the first time we have seen an accident like this on even the north -- the Northeast Corridor route.

TAPPER: Bob Halstead, the lead car survived intact. The second car is a mangled wreck. What can investigators tell from the position and condition of these cars?

HALSTEAD: Well, a wreck like this can probably be computer-simulated.

And I'm sure that's one of the things that NTSB and other entities are going to be pursuing in the days ahead. But it's entirely possibly that you may have a train jackknifed in such a fashion that the second and third cars were actually the ones that may have struck a heavy fixed obstruction such as the bridge support for the pedestrian bridge that passed over this location and also possibly parked train cars.

[16:15:13] We don't know that for sure at this point.

TAPPER: Robert Halstead, Robert Francis, thank you both.

FRANCIS: You're welcome.

TAPPER: Investigators still looking for clues on exactly how this crash happened. As a startling revelation, the NTSB saying preliminary information indicates the train was going in excess of 100 miles per hour. More than double the recommended speed around that curve.

Philadelphia's city council president will be next with the latest on the ongoing search efforts there. People are still missing. That's after this quick break.


[16:20:08] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD and our continuing breaking news coverage of the Amtrak crash.

Seven people at this hour have been reported dead, hundreds more hurt after the Amtrak train derailed outside Philadelphia. Investigators are still scrambling to figure out exactly what happened. But in the last few minutes, we learned that the National Transportation Safety Board investigators say preliminary data indicates the train was traveling more than 100 miles per hour in a 50-mile-per-hour curve when it shot off the rails. That's more than double the speed limit for the curve.

Let's bring in Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke.

Council President Clarke, good to see you -- although obviously I wish it were under better circumstances.

We heard what Mayor Nutter said not long ago. You've been in emergency briefings with officials all day. What can you tell us about what investigators think was the reason for this tragedy?

DARRELL CLARKE (D), PHILADELPHIA CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Yes. Well, first, our prayers go out to the victims and the families.

Look at the site, you shake your head. It is unreal to see the level of destruction coming from this particular crash. It's just unbelievable. The metal, the way it's strewn across the tracks on the engine sitting literally yards away from the rest of the train. Other damage around the perimeter, something you've never seen before in your life.

In all honesty, I'm amazed that not more people met a very, very different fate. We're happy that not more people were injured to the degree that some of those unfortunately that passed. This is bizarre. I mean, I've nerve seen anything like this, Jake.

TAPPER: It's horrific, and obviously great work by the emergency responders in Philadelphia last night and throughout the day. What have you been told by emergency officials? Do they think that the speed was the reason for this crash? Are there other possibilities? CLARKE: Well, early reports that it was clearly excessive speed on

that particular curve. This is a curve that would normally take 50 miles per hour. There's one shortly up the track that would be around 60. They're reporting that 100-plus-mile-per-hour at this location. It clearly exceeds that particular limitation.

We didn't see any other obstructions around the track. So, it's clear that it was not an accident with a freight train as was indicated earlier last night.

We have to wait until the final presentation is given. But clearly people have expectations of safety as it relates to taking mass transit. In this particular case, the northeast corridor, that's probably highest traveled corridor, people have expectations that it's going to be a safe ride.

So, when it's all said and done, the inspections will be done. The analysis will be done. One, we have to make sure that something like this never happens again along this corridor.

TAPPER: I know that there are still people missing. Is it possible that there are still people inside any of these train cars?

CLARKE: Well, they're not giving any specific information. But the reality is they're basing the unaccounted for and the passenger manifest can give certain information with respect to the people that were noted that were on the train, the number of people. But the simple reality I've been told, there are staff members of the railroad that may get on the train that may not list it in a very formalized way. So, we want to wait until every vehicle is inspected to make sure there's no one left in those vehicles and then the whole recovery process as it relates to the vehicles will take place.

TAPPER: All right. Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke, thank you. Our thoughts and prayers are with the city of Philadelphia and with all of those whom have been affected by this horrific tragedy. Thank you, sir.

CLARKE: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, this crash is having a major impact on travelers up and down the East Coast. Long lines at airports. Not a single seat available on buses. That story next.

Plus, we're now learning more about some of the victims of this accident, including a 20-year-old naval academy midshipman, and an "Associated Press" employee. Many injured still in hospitals around Philadelphia.

Stay with us.


[16:28:20] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We are back with continuing breaking news coverage. Exactly how did that Amtrak train derail and kill seven people? All

seven cars of the train are either leaning or scattered across the tracks as investigators shift through the crash scene around the site can be easier said than done, of course.

Hundreds of thousands of people use this route every day. The Northeast corridor is the busiest train line in North America. Now, all those people who use the line on a regular basis are scrambling to find seats on alternative transportation.

CNN's Joe Johns joins me now, down the track, about two miles from Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Joe, airlines, bus lines, even rental car companies are getting flooded with calls right now.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jake. The problem is in Philadelphia but the fallout extends all the way down here to Washington, D.C., as far north as Boston. As you said, buses are affected, cars are affected, even rental cars.

I just got an e-mail a few minutes ago from Hertz, the rental car company. They say they, too, are seeing a spike as a result of the accident in Philadelphia.


JOHNS (voice-over): There were crippling spillover effects for travelers all over the United States who are hoping to ride along Amtrak's Northeast corridor, but had to find alternative transportation.

MARINA RIVERA, DELAYED TRAIN PASSENGER: It is five, six hours here in the Union Station and it's full, packed.

JOHNS: People standing in line after line after line waiting for hours, stranded, but hoping they're lucky enough to get the next bus, train or flight home.

JACKIE ZIMA-EVANS, DELAYED COMMUTER: (INAUDIBLE) that it's going to be chaotic. So, that's I'm here in line right now to find how (INAUDIBLE) to get back home.