JBLM service members climb into derailed train cars, rescue victims

From left to right: U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Robert McCoy, Major Mike Livingston, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Sloan

When driving home from physical training, U.S. Army 2nd. Lt. Robert McCoy saw a train go off its rails and plunge onto Interstate 5 – just 10 miles from Joint Base Lewis McChord.

All but one of the train’s 13 cars derailed with several dangling into rush hour traffic, hitting two semitrucks and five cars. People were out of their vehicles, some calling loved ones and some injured.

“They were directly below … and with the hanging part of the train, my first concern was, if this falls, it’s going to fall directly on these individuals, so I went to these individuals, seeing what condition they were in,” McCoy said.

He directed people away from the overpass, as another service member – who also ran from his vehicle  to the derailment – went from car to car asking people if they were hurt.

Image: Chopper 7

When he learned that those people were moving, Major Mike Livingston went to the train.

“I went to the locomotive and knocked on the door … I said, ‘Are you guys OK,’ and they said, ‘yes,’”  Livingston recalled. “I went back to the dangling train car, I saw Lt. McCoy scale up the back of the semitrailer like Spider Man, so I thought I would go the same way.”

Livingston made it into the train and found a woman shaken up. Her husband and 8-year-old daughter were trapped in the bathroom.

The woman’s mother was also on board with a broken collarbone. McCoy helped bring the injured woman to safety as Livingston talked to the father.

“Superman here [McCoy] got in as I was trying to open the door,” Livingston said. “[McCoy] started banging the door so hard I thought he was going to break his kneecap. That door would not budge, trying to get that father and daughter out.”

The father and daughter were OK, but the two service members did not have the tools to open the door; later emergency crews would come to their aid.

While the first responders started to arrive on scene, McCoy and Livingston created a system to get other people off the train cars.

That’s when Lt. Col. Chris Sloan came aboard, saw McCoy in a physical training uniform, and introduced himself. Sloan had seen the crash while driving and climbed the semi like a ladder to get onto the train cars.

“They weren’t going to depart each others’ sides. It was very important that they were together,” said Sloan. “All we could see was her hip and a broken leg. We talked to her, we pulled her out, inch by inch, until we could get her to sit up. Then she took a breath and said, ‘I’m going to be OK.’”

The woman was well enough to walk on one leg, but because of how the train lay, three people had to help her.

“We had [her husband] make his way out, and the three of us, we were able to get her to turn around, I had her underneath the arms, and we carried her,” Sloan said. “Eventually we got her out … and the EMS was able to take her to the hospital.

McCoy, Livingston, and Sloan were trained for crisis response like Monday’s tragedy. They commend the dozens of other peopleincluding an Eagle Scout – who rushed to help victims in the early moments of the derailment as first responders were on the way to the scene.

As the cars lay overturned — from the train suspected of hurtling at 50 mph over the speed limit — more than 70 people were injured with 10 seriously hurt. Three people died.

“People were caring about doing what was right,” Sloan said. “When people are rushing to those situations, they find where the need is, and they fill it.”

Washington State Department of Transportation and Washington State Patrol crews were still on scene Dec. 19, and train cars were towed away on flatbeds to the JBLM base. Southbound I-5 remains closed to drivers in DuPont. Read real-time updates here.

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