21 Dead in 2 Spanish Train Wrecks

MADRID, Spain -- Two people were killed in a train derailment Tuesday on the outskirts of Madrid only hours after a devastating train crash in northern Spain claimed the lives of 19 passengers.


Investigators combing through the twisted wreckage at both crash sites -- 280 kilometers apart -- ruled out sabotage, but the accidents raised new questions about the safety of Spain's national rail system.


Authorities on Tuesday continued the grim task of identifying mangled bodies pulled from the "Miguel de Unamuno" passenger train, which derailed Monday night in the northern town of Huarte Araquil in Spain's worst train disaster in nearly two decades.


"Some bodies were completely destroyed, so it is very difficult to identify them," Navarre regional president Miguel Sanz told reporters.


On the front page of its Tuesday editions, the Spanish newspaper Diario 16 summed it up with a large, one-word headline: "CATASTROFE."


Relatives who kept an overnight vigil at local hospitals were overcome with grief to learn their loved ones were among the dead. "Why did this have to happen to me?" wailed one mother over the loss of her young son.


The train was crowded with families returning home from a long Easter holiday weekend. Ninety-four of the 248 passengers were injured in the crash, 18 of them seriously.


People trapped in the wreckage screamed for help, and rescue crews worked all night, scouring through the debris for the last of the victims.


Officials of the Spanish rail company RENFE said "excessive speed" was the likely cause of the crash. They said the train approached the station at 137 kilometers per hour when it should have slowed down to 30 kilometers per hour.


Less than 10 hours after the Huarte Araquil crash, a train travelling from Barcelona to Malaga with 54 passengers on board derailed before dawn while changing tracks near Azuqueca de Henares, about 30 kilometers northeast of Madrid.


A train engineer was pronounced dead at the scene, and a French woman passenger died on the way to a local hospital, officials said. Twenty-two people were injured, the Red Cross reported. The cause of the derailment was under investigation.


Spanish television stations flashed between the two crash sites with live broadcasts, and government officials sought to calm the public's fears.


"Trains are the safest mode of transportation [despite] the dramatic events that have occurred in less than 10 hours," Deputy Prime Minister Francisco Alvarez Cascos told state-run radio.


In the first accident, three of four carriages of a train traveling from Barcelona to Irun on Spain's border with France tumbled off the track in Navarre province.


There were moments of sheer terror in the overturned carriages as passengers struggled to crawl out from beneath piles of shattered glass, baggage and broken seats. "The people inside were screaming. It was horrifying," one woman passenger told reporters.


"I was thrown from my seat ... and luggage went flying through the air," said Maribel Burgui, who was traveling with her husband and son. She called it a "great miracle" that they all survived.


Outside a Pamplona hospital, a mother collapsed in the arms of relatives after being told her 23-year-old son had died in the derailment. "My son! My son!" she cried.