'We will all die': Odisha rail crash survivors recall harrowing moments before collision

Passengers describe chaos before impact on board packed trains

The National Disaster Response Force Rescue works at the site of the train crash in Odisha, India. EPA
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As the death toll nears 300 in one of the deadliest train accidents in India, surviving passengers have recounted the horrifying moments from the three-train crash on Friday.

Two express passenger trains collided with a stationary freight train in India’s eastern state of Odisha in one of the country's worst rail accidents.

Odisha train crash survivors recount ordeal

Odisha train crash survivors recount ordeal

A dozen coaches of the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai, derailed after it collided with the Howrah Superfast Express, running from Bengaluru to Howrah, West Bengal, near Bahanaga railway station in the state’s Balasore district, Indian Railways said.

The freight train was on an adjoining track.

There were approximately 2,300 passengers travelling in the two passenger trains.

The accident occurred at about 7pm.

Suleiman Sheikh, 27, was travelling to Kerala, where he works as a labourer.

A father of two daughters aged three and six months, he boarded the train from Shalimar with a dozen fellow labourers.

He was occupying the lower berth of the Coromandel Express when suddenly he realised the train had picked up speed, just moments before it crashed.

"Suddenly, the train started overturning," Mr Sheikh told The National. "People started screaming. Some broke open the windows to escape. There were some women on the top berth who got crushed.

"It was harrowing. People were screaming and crying ... all I can remember is one of them saying - 'this is the end, we will all die'. Those words are stuck in my mind."

Suleiman Sheikh, 27, is one of the survivors of the deadly train crash. Photo: Suleiman Sheikh

Mr Sheikh, returning to work after a month-long holiday, said he was fortunate to have been saved.

"I am still in shock. I can't stop thinking about those moments ... how the train picked up speed and suddenly it was all blank," he said.

He injured his back and his hand and is receiving treatment at Balasore district hospital with at least two dozen other victims.

Jamin, a resident of Kolkata’s Bhardwan area, was travelling to Chennai. He said the carriages were full when the accident took place.

“We were sitting and within two minutes the accident took place. There were a lot of people on the train. Those with reservations, waiting and confirmed tickets, everyone. The train was jampacked,” Jamin told The National.

“I can’t count how many decapitated bodies I saw and how many people without limbs were there. I passed out after witnessing the scenes and came out of the mangled train after an hour."

Jamin was travelling along with eight of his friends, two of whom were seriously injured.

Rescue workers search for survivors amid the wreckage of carriages at the site of a three-train collision near Balasore in Odisha. AFP

He said he told his family after being admitted to the hospital and was planning to go home after losing all his belongings.

“I can’t go to Chennai as I have nothing left, my bag, mobile phone not even a shirt,” he said.

Hardan Prasad Gupta, who was going home to eastern Jharkhand state, said he was still feeling dizzy.

“It was horrifying. I have pain like my body has fractured," he said. "I have abrasions everywhere. It is painful. My head is spinning, I feel like fainting,”

“I somehow survived the crash but I saw the bodies strewn everywhere."

Mohammad Salim from Delhi was travelling to Chennai to join his office when the train crashed.

Mr Salim did not know what caused the crash.

“Some say that the train derailed, others say it collided with another train,” he said.

"There were three trains at the spot. Two passenger trains and a goods train.

“There were 100-120 people [in my carriage]. Some were dead, some had broken limbs. I was brought to the hospital in the night. I called my family and told them everything is fine.”

Mohammad Salim from Delhi was travelling to Chennai. Photo: Jayan Kumar Barik for The National

About 100 ambulances were sent to the scene. Buses were also used to take the injured to hospitals. Residents began donating blood for the injured early on Saturday.

"This is the third worst incident in the history. The coaches are in mangled and crushed condition so it is challenging to cut them carefully so we don’t hurt those who are alive." Atul Karwal, director general of the National Disaster Response Force, said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who expressed grief and promised assistance, will visit the site on Saturday.

“Distressed by the train accident in Odisha. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families,” Mr Modi said on Twitter. “May the injured recover soon.”

Mr Modi said he had spoken to Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and “all possible assistance” was being offered.

Mr Vaishnaw reached the site on Saturday morning and said an inquiry had been set up “to understand the root cause of the accident”.

He also announced compensation of one million rupees ($12,000) to the families of the dead, 200,000 rupees for those seriously hurt and 50,000 rupees for those with minor injuries.

Updated: June 03, 2023, 1:27 PM