At least three dead in Austrian train blaze -APA : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

WIRE:11/11/2000 06:08:00 ET VIENNA, Nov 11 (Reuters) - At least three people were killed in a blaze on a train that caught fire in a tunnel in the Austrian Alps on Saturday and rescue workers feared there would be many more casualties, APA news agency reported. It quoted rescue workers as saying they feared a "mega-catastrophe."

-- Doris (, November 11, 2000


Oh, Doris...this one looks to be much worse than three dead!

Nando Times

About 140 trapped in train fire near Austrian ski resort

The Associated Press

VIENNA, Austria (November 11, 2000 6:40 a.m. EST - A train carrying skiers to an Austrian alpine resort caught on fire Saturday, trapping as many as 140 people inside a mountain tunnel, the mayor of a nearby town said.

Fifteen people, all with minor injuries, were rescued, according to the Austria Press Agency. Rescuers have not been able to reach the burning compartment on the train, reportedly stopped 600 yards inside the mountain.

"Some people have been rescued but we have no way of knowing if there are any more survivors," said Norbert Karlsboeck, mayor of Kaprun, a town some 50 miles south of Salzburg in the central Austrian Alps.

A massive rescue operation was launched after the fire broke out at 9:30 a.m., with some 13 helicopters and teams of police, doctors and Red Cross workers at the site, the mayor said.

"We don't have any contact with the (burning) compartment, that's the problem at this point," a spokesman from the Salzburg regional police told the Austria Press Agency.

The train, on rails and pulled by cables, takes skiers up the mountain from Kaprun to the glacier resort of Kitzsteinhorn and passes through a long tunnel along the way.

"We do not know anything about the reason for the fire, only that it broke out on the train," Karlsboeck said.

Police were telling motorists to keep away from the area so as not to hinder rescue attempts.

-- Rachel Gibson (, November 11, 2000.


Sat Nov 11, 5:24 pm

Alpine train fire kills trapped passengers

At least 150 people were killed aboard a cable-operated train that caught fire deep inside a mountain tunnel in Austria Saturday. Many of the victims were children.

The train was transporting skiers to Kitzsteinhorn, a popular resort in the Austrian Alps about 80 kilometres south of Salzburg.

Reporters near the scene said fresh air, sucked into the tunnel, fed the flames. The fire is said to have broken out in the front compartment where the cable car attendant works.

The Red Cross in Salzburg said eight Germans managed to escape what rescue workers called a "mega-catastrophe".

State radio said the survivors pushed out a rear window in the train to escape.

The train was carrying about 180 passengers.

Among the dead were three people who were not on the train but in a passenger area within the tunnel. Officials said they died of smoke inhalation.

Salzburg's governor, Franz Schausberger, said the fire lasted about three hours and burned itself out by early afternoon.

"Most of them were youths," he said on state television. "Today is a day of mourning."

By nightfall, relatives of those on the train had gathered to mourn and receive news.

Emergency crews, who had called off the rescue effort by Saturday night, spent the day trying to figure out who was dead and who was unaccounted for.

Workers are now worried the cable holding the train might break. This development is forcing rescuers to try and reach victims from the top of the tunnel.

The actual number of dead isn't clear, but there is concern at least nine of them are children and teenagers.

Saturday marked the official start to the winter ski season.

Firefighters wearing protective breathing gear worked on the tunnel and some who came out said the car was torched to the frame.

The train was reported to be 600 metres inside the mountain and rescue workers were not able to reach it when the fire broke out.

The mayor of Salzburg said 13 helicopters, scores of police, doctors and Red Cross workers made up the rescue operation.

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

The train, which runs on rails, is pulled by cables. Built in 1974, the cable railway was the first of its kind to move through a mountain. Experts interviewed on television said it was supposed to be fireproof.

Old-style mountain railways are often used as cog mechanisms to pull carriages up steep slopes in Europe.

In June, at least 64 people were injured when two cog trains collided near Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze.

And last year, 39 people were killed in a tunnel between France and Italy when a truck caught fire.

In 1976, 42 skiers died after a cable snapped at a resort in Italy.

-- Rachel Gibson (, November 11, 2000.


(with diagrams of tunnel)

Sunday, 12 November, 2000, 11:48 GMT How could it have happened?

Investigators have begun the task of trying to find out how a modern funicular train could have turned into a deadly inferno which claimed 153 lives.

Experts say they are puzzled at how an engineless train pulled by a cable could have caught fire in the first place.

A fire may have already been burning on the tracks as the train entered the tunnel, said one official on Sunday.

"We have received information that the light of a fire was already visible to outside witnesses as the train was entering the tunnel," said Erik Buxbaum, Austria's public security chief.

He said the driver had noticed the blaze, but it was too late.

Many rumours have circulated locally: that diesel fuel was being carried on the train; that firecrackers were on board; that a cigarette or cooking gas canisters were to blame; even that a bomb had been planted.

Whatever the cause, officials admit the blaze caught them unawares.

"It wasn't provided for... we were taken by surprise," said the head of technical operations for the underground cable car system, Manfred Mueller.

What is clear is that, once the blaze took hold, passengers stood no chance of escape.

The steep tunnel acted like a giant chimney, sucking oxygen in from the bottom and sending toxic smoke billowing upwards.

Some passengers who got out of the front of the train are believed to have been choked by the fumes as they clambered upwards through the dark, smoke-filled tunnel.

The few who fled downwards from the rear of the train were the only ones to survive.

There is also confusion over why the doors apparently sealed the passengers into the burning train.

Mr Mueller said the train driver was told to open all doors after an alarm sounded, and it was another five or 10 minutes before radio contact was suddenly lost.

But one German survivor told Austria's APA news agency the doors had jammed, trapping passengers inside.

"They screamed as they tried to prise open the doors and smash the windows," he said.

"All I wanted was to get out and I only managed to escape by the skin of my teeth because a window was kicked open, letting me battle my way out."

The tunnel, which opened in 1974, is one of the earliest constructions of its kind in the world, but the train itself was modern.

Inspectors had carried out safety checks as recently as September.

"Everything was fine," said regional governor Franz Schausberger.

The tragedy focuses attention again on the safety of Alpine tunnels.

Last year, dozens of people died in fires in the Mont Blanc tunnel linking France and Italy, and in the Tauern tunnel not far from the scene of Saturday's tragedy.

-- Rachel Gibson (, November 13, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ