On Dec. 18, a brand new commuter train derailed over an interstate highway outside Seattle, plunging from an overpass across multiple traffic lanes, and taking its dozens of terrified passengers with it.
A soldier commuting to his early morning shift at Madigan Army Medical Center on nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord saw the train derail and immediately rushed to help the injured passengers.
Army 2nd Lt. Robert McCoy was driving down the I-5 when he heard a loud bang and saw several train cars barreling down towards him.
“The train is going south and I’m … just driving and I hear a loud noise, and I look up, and I see the train. It hits the concrete walls on the side, and when it hits the walls — the walls kind of exploded – and the train just falls off. I see the train fall, and it kind of falls on itself … and it hits three vehicles that were in front of me,” he said.
McCoy was able to stop before colliding with the carriages, but he and his passengers weren’t breathing any sighs of relief, realizing that although they were safe, many others were not.
“There were individuals who had been ejected from the train onto the pavement. And so my first initial thought was, ‘I don’t know how stable this is. If this train continues to fall, it’s gonna fall on these individuals,’” McCoy recalled.
McCoy said he carried many of the ejected passengers out of the road to safety and then turned his attention to the people trapped inside the dangling train car.
Joined by his Madigan colleagues, deputy commander of administration Lt. Col. Christopher Sloan, and certified registered nurse anesthetist Maj. Michael Livingston, McCoy jumped out of his truck, grabbing his medical bag, and headed to the scene, amidst the acrid smell of steel and blood.
“There were people yelling. There were people looking for each other, loved ones,” he said in a press conference. “I saw many people that were just paralyzed with fear, and I don’t blame them at all. I mean, it was kind of a hard situation to watch unfold.”
Many passengers had been thrown clear of the train, lying injured on the pavement, as the train cars dangled from the overpass above them, McCoy said. Fearing the train could fall on them at any minute, McCoy carried many of them out from the road to safety before turning his attention to those still inside the train.
As he approached, he saw an older woman, dangling from the car as her panicked family tried to pull her in.
“I just reached under her and picked her up and put her down on some form of safe structure,” he said.
Despite the chaos of the situation, the men noted that they appreciated how those responding worked together to help their fellow man.
‘I just knew people needed help,” said Livingston. “I had no idea it was an inaugural run of the train or anything. It was, “what can I do to help as fast as possible and keep these people safe?”
“There was compassion. There was a clear understanding that people were in need of help,” added Sloan.
Following the crash, 20 victims were taken to MAMC’s Emergency Department for care. At least three people were killed and around 100 were injured, according to National Transportation Safety Board officials. But those numbers could have been much higher.
While many would call McCoy a hero, he said he and his colleagues were just doing what the Army trained them to do.
“I couldn’t afford to be scared, I couldn’t afford to be shocked. I had to do what I am called to do and focus and channel that and help these people around me get to safety as best as possible,” he recalled.
Follow the Department of Defense on Facebook and Twitter!
Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DOD website.
Check out these other posts: