Amtrak engineer claims no memory of moments before crash

Updated

Hopes were dashed Friday that the engineer operating Amtrak Regional 188 could shed light on what led the train to derail as it sped wildly into a curve earlier this week. ”He did not feel fatigued nor did he report any illness” — and he also did not have memory of the moments immediately before the crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which interviewed the 32-year-old engineer, Brandon Bostian. He was extremely cooperative with his lawyer on hand, NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt said during a press briefing Friday.

The NTSB also requested that the FBI examine particular damage to the train’s windshield based on a report that something may have struck the train. An interview with a deputy conductor revealed that she overheard a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) engineer telling Bostian that something might have hit the nearby SEPTA train — either an object or, possibly, a gunshot. The incident led the SETPA engineer to place his train in an emergency stop, according to the deputy conductor’s account. The NTSB has since obtained and will examine the image recorder from that train.

Related: The technology that would have prevented the crash

“Of course when the [Amtrak] engine went through the impact, the windshield was shattered but there is particular damage there that we want [the FBI] to look at,” Sumwalt added Friday. NTSB officials also interviewed a second deputy conductor, but not the lead conductor, who was still recovering in the hospital.

Officials investigating Tuesday night’s deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia have obtained a search warrant for the cell phone records of Bostian, who was at the controls when the commuter train derailed, leaving eight people dead and more than 200 injured. Data recovered from the wreckage shows the train accelerated to over 100 mph in the minute before the crash as it approached a curve where the speed limit was just 50 mph. 

Amtrak train derails near Philadelphia
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter called the incident “an absolute disastrous mess,” adding “I have never seen anything like it in my life.”

Analyzing Bostian’s cell phone records could help determine why Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 jumped the tracks, and if he was distracted while operating the train.

As the investigation enters its fourth day, officials say they believe that all 243 people on board – 238 passengers and five crew members – have been accounted for. Forty-three patients were still being treated at area hospitals, according to the latest numbers. Temple University Hospital said on Friday that 12 patients remain at its facility with five in critical condition. 

The eighth victim was extricated by hydraulic tools early Thursday morning after the city’s fire department was asked to bring cadaver-searching dogs to the scene.

Robert Goggin, an attorney for the engineer, said Bostian suffered a concussion and does not remember the crash. “He remembers driving the train, he remembers going to that area generally, has absolutely no recollection of the incident or anything unusual,” said Goggin, who has insisted his client’s cell phone was off during the trip, which started in Washington D.C. and was headed to New York.

Goggin added that the next thing Bostian recalled was being thrown around and eventually finding his cell phone to call police. Bostian, who had 14 staples placed in his head and injured his knee as a result of the derailment, has voluntarily turned over a blood sample, according to his attorney.

RELATED: Amtrak train accelerated ahead of deadly curve

Although officials haven’t determined what caused the derailment, Nutter has argued Bostian’s “reckless” behavior had to have been a factor. “I don’t think that any common sense, rational person would think that it was okay to travel at that level of speed knowing there was a pretty significant restriction on how fast you should go through that turn,” the Philadelphia mayor said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon. 

Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman wrote a letter, posted on the company’s blog, saying Amtrak “takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event.” Boardman also reiterated a promise he made on Thursday that Positive Train Control (PTC), a system aimed at preventing high-speed derailments, would be implemented by the end of the year. Sumwalt and others have argued that if PTC had been in place on the Northeast’s busiest corridor, the derailment could have been prevented.

5/15/15, 11:01 AM ET

Amtrak CEO: 'This is a damn safe railroad'

NBC News’ Tom Costello spoke with Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman on Thursday about the railroad’s safety record, and what sort of systems are in place to prevent accidents.
Tuesday’s incident has also highlighted the ongoing concerns about funding for national infrastructure, including railways and highways. The Highway Trust Fund, which pays for the repair and building of highways, bridges and mass transit, is scheduled to expire later this month unless Congress acts. Separately, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee voted on Wednesday—less than 24 hours after the derailment—to reduce the Amtrak budget by $252 million.

House Speaker John Boehner has argued there is no correlation between Amtrak funding and this week’s crash – something Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut took issue with on Friday, when the two Democrats held a press conference introducing a four-point plan to address rail safety.

Calling for increased investment in infrastructure to upgrade rail equipment and implement PTC, Blumenthal said Boehner’s comments were “prototypical of what the public finds so abhorrent” about Congress, while Schumer warned rail safety would “get a lot worse if we don’t step up to the plate.” 

The first lawsuit stemming from the crash has been filed by injured Amtrak employee Bruce Phillips, according NBC Philadelphia. Phillips, who was off duty but onboard the train during the crash, is seeking $150,000 in damages for “loss and impairment of earnings and earning power” and “great physical pain and mental anguish.” The lawsuit, which accuses Amtrak of “gross reckless conduct,” said Phillips had multiple injuries, including brain trauma, contusions, lacerations of the body, and is dealing with orthopedic and neurological issues.

Northeast Corridor service on Amtrak is expected to be partially restored on Monday and fully restored by Tuesday. 

Amtrak, Amtrak Regional 188 derailment, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and public safety

Amtrak engineer claims no memory of moments before crash

Updated