Chris Karnes heard a creaking sound, then he felt his body being launched into the seat in front of him.

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Chris Karnes heard a creaking sound and felt the train rock slightly. Then, suddenly, he felt his body launch into the seat in front of his.

“It sounded like being on the inside of an aluminum can being crushed,” he said. “And then we were not on the tracks anymore.” 

The train car’s lights went out. Water came pouring from the ceiling. Dust was tossed up everywhere.

Karnes, a software developer from Tacoma, was traveling on the Amtrak train to Portland, Ore., to do some Christmas shopping with his boyfriend. He was in the third or fourth car when it derailed, injuring dozens and killing at least three people.

Amtrak train derailment

A transit and train advocate, he wanted to be on the new Amtrak line’s inaugural run.

“Our new Amtrak station was opening up in Tacoma, so I wanted to be on the first train out,” he said.

Neither he nor his boyfriend had felt the train decelerate before the wreck, Karnes said, though he added that he was not paying close attention and was not sure if he would have noticed.

After the derailment, Karnes said another passenger kicked out a window. He and other passengers jumped into some bushes onto an embankment that led down to Interstate 5.

“There was one person who was injured in our car, and I was sent to go find help for them. They were breathing but not conscious,” he said.

One man was lying on the ground on the embankment, Karnes said. “It looked like he might have been thrown from the train.”

Then, Karnes remembers seeing emergency responders “scurrying about,” rushing to a train car that had flipped over onto Interstate 5 and fallen on the roadway.

“I saw one fireman with an ax trying to force a door open or knock out a window, so they could get into the car so they could see the damage,” Karnes said. “Everyone was being evacuated out of the train, part of the train was overhanging the overpass.”

Karnes said emergency responders sorted victims into groups.

“There were a number of people being hauled out on stretchers and carts with neck braces,” he said. “There are people who seem to have concussions. There’s a lot of blood on their faces.”

Karnes said his back was hurting, but he was “fine in comparison with some of the people here.”