Flood Derails Train outside Williston, Vermont
The enormously complex rescue operation broke down into four overlapping phases. First, all passengers not trapped had to be moved to waiting ambulances. Then those trapped had to be freed. Next, a hundred yards of forest had to be cleared and a road built to the edge of the tracks for a 125-ton crane Mike Cote was bringing down from Georgia, Vermont. The stream had to be diverted, which meant constructing a 500-foot-long, eight-foot-high earthen dam. Finally, the cars themselves had to be separated and removed.
Ninety minutes after the crash the first groups of passengers began arriving at the two hospitals, and by noon most had been examined and admitted for treatment or released. Out at the wreck site, a waiting game began as the rescue teams struggled with twisted steel and aluminum. Nobody knew how many were trapped; estimates ranged from 12 to 40. (The final count was fewer than a dozen.)
Inside the wreckage, Judy Loriaux was watching the word “toilet” on a wall before her slowly disappear behind another panel; her crumpled compartment was inexorably closing in on her. Nineteen-year-old Richard St. George of the Charlotte Fire Department crawled into a tight space next to her, reached in through a small opening and grabbed her hand. “Everything’s going to be okay,” he said. Handing Loriaux his glove to cover her face, St. George began cutting away a door panel that blocked the exit. Suddenly there was a shout outside: a fireman with his hand on the car had felt it move ever so slightly. St. George scurried out until the danger was past.
When he returned, St. George promised he wouldn’t leave again, and for the next two hours he remained wedged inside the sleeper with Loriaux, talking bicycling and discussing strategies to get her out. She in turn kept those buried below her informed. Finally, after seven hours, St. George opened up an escape passage, and as Loriaux was pulled out by a dozen helping hands, hundreds of rescuers whistled and applauded. “Oh, what a beautiful day,” she said. St. George, weak and dehydrated, ended up in the hospital with her.
Humor surfaced at odd moments. Neil Driver, hearing one of the trapped passengers calling from inside the car, ordered everyone to shut down their saws and jackhammers so he could listen.
“What do you want?” Driver asked. “Everything okay?”
“Oh, fine,” the voice replied. “What time do you think I’ll get to Montreal?”
A half-hour later the voice called out again. All work stopped. “What do you need?” Driver asked.
“Can’t find any magazines down here. You got any up there?” Driver promised him a good book when he got out.
John Workman, a Burlington fireman, collapsed of dehydration after a -dangerous, laborious morning inside the wreck helping to free passenger Theodore Zemojtel. Zemojtel was wheeled into the emergency room 15 minutes after Workman arrived. The two hadn’t met, but Zemojtel’s voice sounded familiar to Workman. “You wouldn’t be Ted by any chance?” he asked from his stretcher.