Passengers and police described the aftermath of a commuter train derailment Monday night in a rural part of the San Francisco East Bay as a surreal scene out of a movie.
"This is beginning to look like that Harrison Ford movie #TheFugitive derailment scene," passenger John Wong of Pleasanton, California tweeted from the scene. On Tuesday morning, he descibed how much the train was jerking before it fell off the tracks and down a ravine into the Alameda Creek.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. JD Nelson added that what he witnessed — when an Altamont Corridor Express train plunged in chilly creek waters in Sunol, California — was straight out of a Hollywood thiller. He described the misty fog and the steep terrain, which could have come straight out of the 1993 film, "The Fugitive," which portrays a scene where a bus plunges down a ravine into the path of an oncoming train.
"To paint the picture," Nelson said, "you feel like it's the movie, 'The Fugitive.' That's the kind of scene it is. It's rugged, it's cold, it's dark."
Early Tuesday morning, a Union Pacific spokesman said the most likely cause of the derailment — the second in a decade for an ACE train — was a mudslide that swept a tree in front of the tracks. Nine passengers suffered some type of injury, and Nelson said it was a “minor miracle” no one was killed.
Rad Akhter said it was a close call. One passenger was “just under the mudslide, and we were trying to dig her out while the train was hanging. It was a pretty crazy experience."
He added: “One portion of the train was just missing in the beginning. All we saw was just water. Thank God I didn't sleep or anything, so I was aware of everything. But it just shifted the gravity all of a sudden, and you know we were all just panicking."
Part of the panic was also because temperatures Monday night dropped to the high 40s, and the No. 10 train car was submerged in Alameda Creek. After getting outside, many of the 214 passengers on board draped coats and scarves around themselves. Some huddled on the ground, sitting side by side to keep warm. Others grabbed cell phones to call loved ones as swarms of emergency responders descended to help. Passengers were taken to the Alameda County Fairgrounds as a staging area.
Kathy Heilmann remembered feeling a “jerk” and an “abrupt stop” before learning the train had gone off the tracks in Sunol, which is 45 miles east of San Francisco.
“We knew we were in a pretty remote area, so we knew we had some hiking to do along the train tracks," she said.
Still, Heilmann said despite the scary experience, she realized that she and the others were pretty fortunate.
"I'm grateful that it wasn't worse,” she said. “I’m very grateful that it wasn't worse."