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Commuters rush to Amtrak train wreckage to help survivors

DUPONT, Wash. -- A neurosurgeon and an Eagle Scout. A college student and military medics.

Commuters and emergency workers alike rushed to help survivors when an Amtrak passenger train derailed Monday south of Seattle and hurtled off an overpass onto a busy interstate below.

Oregon Health & Science University neurosurgeon Dr. Nathan Selden was headed to Seattle with his college-aged son when they came upon the deadly wreck near DuPont, Washington.

It was the first mass casualty event Selden had seen, and he was amazed to see that one infant involved in the wreck seemed miraculously unharmed.

At least three people were killed and others were badly injured, authorities said. Selden was ushered to a medical triage tent to help tend to survivors as his son started running supplies from the firetrucks to the medical tents.

The most severely injured people had already been taken to hospitals by the time he arrived, Selden said, and the victims he assessed had sprains, open wounds, skull and pelvis fractures and other injuries.

He applauded the first responders as skilled, dedicated and compassionate. Trained professionals and untrained helpers worked together "amazingly well," he said.

"We were very close to the trains and it was a chaotic scene but a scene of complete purpose. Everybody knew what the goal was," Selden said.

Daniel Konzelman was also driving nearby with a friend when they saw the derailment. They pulled over and rushed to the wreckage, running along the tracks and over the bridge to reach the scene.

Some train cars had their roofs ripped off or were turned upside down. Others were turned sideways on the bridge. Konzelman, 24, and his friend clambered into train cars to look for victims.

"I just wanted to help people because I would want people to help me," he said.

A few years earlier Konzelman had become an Eagle Scout, and his scout training in first aid and emergency response kicked in, he said.

The scene was grisly, with some people pinned under the train and others who appeared to be dead. If people could move and seemed stable, Konzelman said he helped them climb out of the train. If they looked seriously hurt, he tried to offer comfort by talking to them to calm them down.

They stayed to help for nearly two hours.

"I wasn't scared. I knew what to expect. ... I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. I saw a little bit of both," Konzelman said.

The train was making its first-ever run along a faster new route between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle.

About 35 military personnel from the nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord were among the first to respond to the derailment. Base spokesman Gary Dangerfield paramedics, firefighters and others from the base regularly train with local authorities so they are ready to help in emergencies.

Witnesses said some military personnel ran to the cars stopped along the side of the road, gathering first aid kits, towels and other items that could assist in the rescue efforts.

Wendy Simmons arrived as people were helping the injured and saw first responders climbing into the train cars dangling over the edge of the overpass. She said people driving by also were stopping to help.

"People were pulling first aid kits out of their cars — putting jackets on people," she told Q13 News.