Mega Disasters Kaprun Train Disaster

Europe Austria the village of capron November the 11th mm of skiers and snowboarders crowd into the resort for the opening day of the winter sports season what makes Catherine so popular is its giant glacier the pitch tine horn it's a mountain of ice that never melts whatever the weather making skiing possible even in summer a high-tech ski train Rises 1,500 metres through solid rock to land skiers near the summit next to the upper station a restaurant and shopping mall 8:45 a.m. skiers and snowboarders celebrate the season start people light firecrackers Torsten great ler part-time firefighter from Germany arrives for the big day with 49 members of his ski club that particular trip was the first outing of the year 2000 Thomas Kratz has just joined the club he's looking forward to his first glimpse of the glacier to reach the slopes skiers have a choice a standard cable car or a hi-tech train called a funicular most of the group headed for the funicular I thought to myself that's bound to be fast he joins 29 other Club members lining up with a high-speed Summit train the 3.8 kilometer ride should take just 9 minutes 4 minutes faster than the cable car 8:57 am a hundred and sixty one passengers crowd on board among them some of the world's top skiers sandra schmidt holds an olympic gold for germany and sebastian geiger who's just fourteen is junior champion today there's an entire American family on board two US Army Major Michael Goodridge his wife Jennifer and their sons five-year-old Kyle and seven-year-old Michael a longtime member of Torsten sclab Manfred he'll tell thinks nothing of taking the train I've been skiing for decades and regularly travel in cable cars chairs lifts or funiculars I didn't give it a second thought 902 am control room staff keep tabs as the train pulls out of the Bali station first it crosses a spectacular 600 metre ravine before entering a steep tunnel that climbs through the mountain for the passengers on board the upper valley with its ideal skiing conditions should now be just nine minutes away but today will be different the Train first opened its doors in 1974 it was an engineering triumph the first of its kind an underground train inside a mountain climbing at speeds of 25 km/h up a steep 30 degree incline in 1993 it was modernised giving it a sleek futuristic look and making it the pride of Austria's ski resorts the system is ingenious but simple there are two trains each one balancing the other as one climbs its twin across the tunnel descends at the top station a powerful electric motor and pulley system pulls the trains up and down the track neither train has an engine or fuel there are no drivers just an attendant at the front of the Train who operates the doors each train has two coaches with eight separate passenger compartments there's a cab at the front and the rear of the train for the attendant who switches back and forth as the Train travels up and down it can carry up to 180 passengers every day more than a thousand people use the Train and it enjoys a perfect safety record until now 902 and 3 seconds the 161 passengers are spread through the Train Thomas Kraus is in the last compartment just 20 meters out of the station he spots something the first unusual thing I noticed was the smoke it was like a cigarette that he put down for a moment Thomas is at the back of the Train near the empty attendant cab which is only used for the downhill trip smoke from the cab starts to seep into the rest of the car passengers grow concerned - then agitated there are no smoke alarms to alert either the train attendant or the control room one passenger tries to make a call for help on a cell phone others bang on the rear wall of the coach but no one hears them 904 a.m. the Train enters the tunnel cutting off cell phone signals and there's no way to contact the attendant at the front of the Train he's more than 50 meters away totally unaware of the crisis unfolding in the rear compartment Oh Tom Haas - hola you could already see fire flickering licking upwards the word got round and people inside the compartment realized that there was a real 905 600 meters into the dark tunnel the Train suddenly stops the control room contacts the attendant to find out what's going on but he has no idea he didn't halt the Train 9:05 and thirty seconds the rear coach is now filling with toxic smoke but there's no emergency door release the 161 passengers are trapped 9:06 a.m. as the blaze in the empty attendance cab worsens toxic smoke fills the passenger compartments Torsten grade lay is one of the skiers trapped in the blazing rear coach Don hunt the man next to me who is also a member of our ski group he tried to pull the door open by grasping the rubber seal but the doors won't open and some people are starting to panic Torsten and another man tried to smash the windows with a ski pole but they're made of shockproof plexiglass it was very very difficult we had to use extreme force just to make a hole into the hot one behind us a bit sore Bobby at last they break the window and think they're free only to find another pane of glass behind it then suddenly the dangerous situation turns desperate flames from the empty attendants cab burst into the compartment the terrified passengers have nowhere to go 9:08 up until now the attendant at the front of the train hasn't seen the blaze now he realizes what's going on he alerts the control room they tell him open the doors and get the people out at that exact moment the intercom dies and all contact with the burning train is lost operators in the control room have no idea what's going on deep within the mountain tunnel meanwhile tossed and graters efforts to smash the windows pay off and he and the other passengers dive out of the Train I was the last one to leave the compartment by that time flames were all around my head but in other compartments passengers are still trapped some people just stood there not moving at all they appear to have been overcome by the smoke and paralyzed by it 9:00 11:00 a.m. at the station an operator in the control room calls for help for those few who've managed to escape the stricken train the nightmare continues they must find a way out in the smoke-filled darkness they face a life-or-death decision which way to go ah away from the fire or back down past the fire Torsten greater has been a volunteer fireman in his hometown for 25 years his instinct tells him to head down the emergency stairs run right through the tunnel to the exit 600 meters away but first he has to clamber across the rails wearing ski boots the ski boot on my right foot got stuck in the rails and I just couldn't wrench my right leg freely fellow ski club member thomas grass is already on the staircase he sees his friend trapped on the track surrounded by the flames I gave him a hand and the two of us ran past the Train with his ski boot now free Torsten tells thomas manfred and others to climb downwards but the emergency steps are narrow and very steep and they're slowed down by their bulky ski gear making progress agonizingly slow I stumbled because I couldn't get into a rhythmic my ski boots were like plaster casts running downhill in them was extremely difficult under tor Stern's guidance the desperate group tries to stay together above them looms the burning train its cables could snap at any moment sending the 40-ton train roaring down the tunnel towards them at last the 12 skiers emerge into the daylight they're exhausted and terrified but alive 923 149 passengers and the train attendant are still stranded inside the blazing tunnel rescue workers pour in five hundred firefighters 22 helicopters 100 rescue vehicles rushed to the scene but the lower end of the tunnel the Train is nearest to is way up the mountainside the only way the firefighters to reach it is on foot up the railway what they encounter is terrifying the train is ablaze from end to end in such extremes of heat the cable it hangs prompt could snap at any moment sending the train hurtling down on top of them and crashing into the valley station below nine thirty five thirty minutes after the fire began the firemen are forced to abandon the rescue attempt there's been a total electricity failure the power supply goes out all over the mountain staff at the station fight to restore the electricity but the station is filling with thick toxic smoke and they're forced to escape through an emergency door without power the door jambs open now fumes escape into the summit station shopping mall full of people employees evacuate the station and shopping area dozens of people escape but there is still four more trapped inside helicopters airlift the first teams of rescuers up to the summit firefighters gear up to enter the smoke-filled building 10:16 Friedreich's team enters the shopping area in search of survivors you couldn't see anything at all that's how it was it was like walking into a void thank God we chose the right-hand entrance and quickly found the first person the firefighters stumble upon a workman lying unconscious just inside the main entrance he's barely breathing they rush him outside just in time they plunge into the smoke-filled building again despite zero visibility they find the last three people tragically they're already dead the thick smoke and high temperatures make it too dangerous for the firefighters to continue into the station and tunnel the search for the missing 149 passengers is suspended for fire chief and on-brand are it's an agonizing dilemma we were there with nearly 500 men and 60 or 70 fire engines but there was still nothing we could do 12:00 midday three terrible hours since the inferno started it's still dangerous but fire chief brandade decides to let two small teams of specially equipped rescuers enter the tunnel in search of survivors the men have no idea what to expect in the smoke-filled darkness one team reaches the sister train which was heading down the valley at the time of the blaze inside they find the bodies of the attendant and his only passenger further down the tunnel rescuers arrive at the burned-out train around it the track is completely destroyed rails torn and twisted then they make an awful discovery of the 149 passengers trapped in the Train not one has survived what was to have been a great day skiing has turned into a day of unimaginable tragedy in total 155 people are dead only 12 incredibly lucky survivors escaped the fire it's the worst peacetime tragedy Austria has ever suffered and devastating news for dozens of bereaved families around the world that's the worst part of it telling the relatives there are no survivors for me that was the worst most of the bodies are burnt beyond recognition in some cases identification relies on DNA cross matched with samples from the victims toothbrushes and razors found in their hotels among those who died a US Army Major Michael Goodrich his wife Jennifer and their two young children world freestyle skiing champion sandra schmidt perishes along with her parents german junior ski champion Sebastian Geiger aged 14 dies with three other members of his group and their to ski coaches but how could this terrible tragedy happen it's a total mystery pulled up by a cable and winch the train has no engine no fuel tanks and only low-voltage electrical devices what could have caused the blaze the Regional Public Prosecutor's Office orders an investigation into the cause of the disaster they appoint Helmut Prada to head the inquiry and recruit a team of 12 to solve the mystery using their findings we can piece together the deadly chain of events forensic investigators begin by searching for clues to the source of the blaze they must work on the burnt-out train inside the tunnel if the wreck is moved they may lose vital clues they halt the sister train untouched by the flames out of the tunnel for analysis built two identical specifications the twin train may reveal an undetected design flaw within hours of the tragedy journalists air theories on the cause of the fire The Times of London suggests that snowboarders may have been to blame the paper reports that some snowboarders may have been lighting firecrackers in celebration of the opening day of the new winter sports season could a teenage prank have started the terrifying Inferno which would go on to claim 155 lives at this early stage of the inquiry nothing is ruled out investigators take survivor Thomas Krauss to the sister train to point out where he first saw the blaze in my statement I said it was like a cigarette that you put down for a moment that's what it looked like the smoke coming from the control panel the control panel is in the rear attendants compartment investigators tried to find out if anyone could have got in there and started a fire accidentally or even deliberately but the rear cab is sealed off from the passenger compartment the only way into it is from the platform eyewitnesses confirm it was empty on the fateful journey the attendant was in the uphill cab of the front of the Train the only opportunity for someone to enter the rear cabin start a fire is during the trains three-minute stop at the valley station just before it leaves investigators calculate that this is too short a time frame for anyone to get in start the fire and get out without being noticed they dismiss theories that a snowboarder or anyone else started the blaze still they concentrate on the rear guards cab something in there did caused the deadly blaze but what passenger Thomas Kraus has told them where the fire broke at the control panel in the rear attendants compartment which contains electrical wiring painstakingly the team carry out tests to see if faulty wiring could have sparked the blaze but the cables which were replaced during the trains modernization in 1993 are all coated with self extinguishing materials and could not sustain a fire it seems the trains modernized electrical system conforms to all fire safety standards still the team continues to explore the records of the trains 1993 refit then they make a fascinating discovery during the trains modernization the attendants cabs were made more comfortable electric fan heaters were installed to keep the cab's warm during the freezing winter months when temperatures can plummet to minus 20 degrees Celsius and they're located beneath the control panels where smoke was first spotted when investigators check out the manufacturer's instructions for the heaters they uncover a terrible oversight incredibly they find that trains heater is designed for use in the home not for moving vehicles good fitting a domestic heater to a mountain train somehow have caused the blaze they turn to the identical heater in the sister train and make a stunning discovery the mount for the heating element is broken meaning it can easily get jammed against its plastic casing and catch fire further tests show that four out of five heaters of this type had the same defect it's a major breakthrough for the team but it doesn't close the case by itself a faulty fan heater could possibly start a fire but with no fuel on board how could it grow into an inferno so ferocious that the trains aluminium body melted and its steel rails buckled investigators are baffled but then one of the team stumbles on a pool of oily liquid on the track the trail leads upwards to the tunnels entrance they send it to a forensic lab for analysis results show that it's hydraulic oil just like the oil used in the trains braking system and it's highly flammable professor joseph neji's is an expert on this type of railway there is no other explanation than that this hydraulic oil originated from the damaged train itself Mountain fart circus dumped just like the new heaters in the attendance cabs the hydraulic system was a new feature installed during the 1993 refit 120 liters of the flammable hydraulic oil run in pipes along the 61 meter train but how did the oil escape onto the track it's otters hydraulic pipes are often not completely leak proof so a small amount of hydraulic oil may have seeped out but how did the highly flammable oil come into contact with a faulty fan heater after all they should be in two completely different places on the train investigators combed the sister train for clues and make another crucial discovery the control panel in the guards compartment houses an hydraulic pressure gauge and oil pipes leading to the gauge pass within just a few centimetres of the faulty heater if these pipes were leaking some of the flammable oil could have dripped onto the heater could this be the vital breakthrough investigators are looking for now they can piece together the chain of events leading up to the tragedy 14 minutes before disaster the train fills up with 161 skiers in the empty attendance cab a dribble of oil is already dripping down the pipes into the heater which comes on automatically during station stops a design fault causes the unit to overheat hydraulic oil seeps onto the red-hot heater element fire breaks out unnoticed before the train even leaves the station nine minutes to go as the train pulls out of the station the heater switches off automatically but it's too late inside fire takes hold thomas Kraus is close by the control panel the first unusual thing I noticed was the smoke wisps of smoke coming from some sort of control panel seven minutes as the train approaches the tunnel flames from the heater melt the leaking pipes now oil gushes out of the pipes soaking the plastic floor and dripping onto the track below as the Train enters the tunnel highly flammable hydraulic oil is feeding a roaring blaze six minutes left six hundred meters into the tunnel the Train unexpectedly comes to a stop the conductor who's at the front of the train doesn't know there's a problem but why did the train stop it's a mystery the investigators now want to solve they check the design for the trains hydraulic brake system and discover that it has a built-in failsafe mechanism if pressure drops as in the case of a leak the brakes automatically slam on bringing the train to an emergency stop under normal conditions it's a necessary safety feature but now it only serves to trap the train in the tunnel stranded 600 metres from help investigators know that a leak from the hydraulic system causing a 20% loss in pressure would trigger the automatic stop that leaves more than enough highly flammable fluid on board to create the deadly Inferno burning parts of the heater casing now drop onto the plastic floor igniting pools of oil four minutes to go toxic choking smoke enters the crowded lower passenger car followed by flames as the pressurized hydraulic oil gushes out feeding the blaze now some passengers make their escape bid the man next to me had to use extreme force just to make a hole in the window three minutes to go at last the guard notices the flames coming from the back of the Train he alerts the control room and the operator tells him to open the doors and let the people out then the intercom goes dead in fact there's a massive power cut all over the mountain cable cars stop ski lifts grind to a halt automatic doors at the top station fail it's no coincidence investigators find that the fire is to blame the blaze burn through a vital 16 kilovolt cable that runs alongside the track and through the tunnel short-circuiting the entire mountain area with so many dead everyone wants to know did the train attendant ever have a chance to open the passenger doors their question is answered by a gruesome clue the investigation established that ultimately the doors were opened because the bodies of all the passengers were found outside the train to Gaston told off key Fulton warden investigators deduced that the attendant used the trains manual override an onboard battery power and did open the doors but out of the 161 passengers on board only a dozen ever made it out of the tunnel to safety it's a mystery what did those 12 survivors do differently from the 149 who perished in the flames now the train attendant opens the doors by using the manual override switch freeing all the remaining passengers from the blazing coaches but investigators know that all these people 149 of them perish the question everyone wants answered why do some escape when others die in the tunnel what's more many are fit able-bodied men and women some of them ski champions but not one makes it more than 142 meters investigators find the body of the German Olympic skier Sandra Schmidt 62 meters from the burnt-out train Japanese athlete Tommy he tosses a made it the furthest of any one they discover his body 142 meters away but most people have fallen within the first 15 meters of the Train what investigators need to know is how did 12 survivors cover more than 600 meters to get to safety when most perished no fewer than a few steps from the Train to find out the team studies other severe tunnel blazes from around the world they find the answer to the mystery in the design of the Capron tunnel it's built at a steep angle of almost 30 degrees it means that when the blaze broke out it would not behave like a normal tunnel fire dr. Richard Bettis has studied tunnel fires for 17 years and knows this is a major problem an important thing about a fire in a tunnel is that the the heat and smoke have got nowhere to go smoking he will rise up to the roof and spread out in both directions but if the tunnel sir inclined all the smoke will go upwards and the direction the smoke travels is critical to the passengers escaping from the train through the now open doors they face a crucial decision which way to go downwards on a steep stairway towards the heat and smoke of the fire or upwards away from the inferno just twelve decide to run downwards the remaining 150 people all go up towards what they believe is safety but that's the direction in which the heat and smoke travel in a tunnel that's now a giant chimney Stan aims a fire scientist knows they didn't stand a chance for is always counter intuitive it doesn't do what people expect it to do and what these people did in taking the decision to move upwards was to move up with the smoke with the toxic gases on the heat up towards a certain death and investigators discover that most people made it no further than 15 meters from the Train not because of the searing heat of the blaze but because of deadly chemicals in the smoke the most dangerous component of smoke is carbon monoxide and when you inhale carbon monoxide it enters your bloodstream and the hemoglobin in your blood attaches to it preventing you from using that blood to carry oxygen now investigators want to know why the 12 survivors decided to descend the reason they were led by a firefighter Torsten griddler I shouted run towards the bottom the rules of how to act in smoke-filled environments become second nature to me as a volunteer fireman for more than 25 years Torsten knows that to have a chance of survival they have to get below the smoke as he and his fellow passengers scramble out he shouts to them to go down but one passenger Herman Gaia doesn't hear Torsten and runs the wrong way uphill suddenly I heard one of my fellow passengers it was Torsten chanting run downhill everybody and that was my salvation but as the twelve made their way down the tunnel the disaster was far from over the inferno was about to claim more lives some of them people who weren't even on the train most people would drink the further you are away from the fire the safer you would be but in this case the smoke and toxic gases generation from the fire traveled the entire length of the tunnel and endangered the lives of the people in the restaurant and the station two and a half kilometers away this is like being attacked by a fire on the other side of town as the fire sucks in air from the bottom of the tunnel it causes a massive updraft which propels smoke upwards at a hundred and forty four kilometres per hour the deadly cloud also engulfs the sister train choking the attendant and his only passenger to death it then pours out of the top of the tunnel killing three more people in the station building it's a terrible tragedy that the investigation team wants to prevent happening again they want to know if it could have been avoided but when they examine the trains safety specifications what they unearth will shocked the whole of Austria as investigators scan the fatally flawed mountain trains design they're shocked to find it lacks even basic safety features the train has no smoke detectors it's two fire extinguishers are out of passengers reach in the sealed attendants cabs there's no way for passengers to contact the attendant and no emergency brake switch why are there so few safety features in the hundred years since funiculars were put into operation no fire has ever occurred inside a coach this meant that there was a perception that a fire like this could never man so it was kinda fuzzy incredibly investigators find the Train does comply with safety rules but the rules themselves are hopelessly outdated they don't take account of new systems fitted when the train was modernized hydraulic braking systems and onboard electric power but two new innovations that severely increased the risk of fire but the most serious blunder that the operators committed was to fit a totally unsuitable fan heater inside the control unit of the attendants cab as a result 16 individuals are charged with negligence and indirectly causing the deaths of a hundred and fifty five people On June the 19th 2002 the case goes to trial in their defense they claimed that they had taken the necessary precautions and the fire could not have been foreseen controversially in February 2004 they're all acquitted after the Court finds that there's insufficient evidence against them the victims families are devastated in the wake of the disaster at cap run safety regulations on similar mountain trains have been toughened up throughout the Alps this train system in the nearby Pitt star region is the same type as in Capron but boasts many new features like video links to the attendant passengers can get cell phone reception in the tunnel there's an intercom system emergency door handles and hammers to break windows now it all seems so obvious tossed and griddler was recognized as a hero for helping to smash a train window and leading 11 people to safety but surviving the disaster when so many died including 20 members of his Ski Club weighs heavily when I walk down the street I have to go past two or three houses where I know they lost the daughter here the husband was killed and the daughter too that's not easy to cope with many of the survivors have found the courage to return to the ski slopes I still go skiing to begin with I found it difficult if I'll never travel in one of those funiculars again while I'm at work I've got something to occupy my mind but at night the memories come back the mountain train at Capron was a disaster waiting to happen one day in November it took a simple malfunction in a domestic fan heater to set off a catastrophic chain of events the faulty fan overheated and ignited a hundred and twenty liters of hydraulic oil that sparked an inferno in the passenger coaches that sent smoke billowing two and a half kilometers up the mountain tunnel and caused the deaths of a hundred and fifty five people now a new fast cable car has been built to take skiers up to the slopes tourists have returned to take advantage of the exceptional year-round conditions offered by the Magnificent Kitsch tine horn classier slowly but surely the town is rebuilding its image but the mountain train at Capron has never reopened