SAINTHIA, India – Mithun Mahato was fast asleep on an overnight train before an enormous jolt awakened him and he panicked because his coach was flipping over. He lay with his leg broken for five hours, crushed under dead bodies of other passengers as he waited for help.
The powerful crash between two express trains at a station in eastern India early Monday morning killed 61 people and injured scores more. The force of the crash was so intense the roof of one car was thrust onto an overpass above the tracks.
Accidents are common on India's sprawling rail network, one of the world's largest, with most blamed on poor maintenance and human error. An investigation into the cause was started.
It was the second major train crash in the state of West Bengal in the past two months. On May 28, a passenger train derailed and was hit by an oncoming cargo train in a crash that killed 145 people. Authorities blamed sabotage by Maoist rebels for that crash.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who rushed to the site, raised the possibility that Monday's crash could have been another case of sabotage. But there no immediate indication that rebels were to blame, and railway officials said the cause of the crash was unclear.
The crash happened about 2 a.m. when the fast-moving Uttarbanga Express slammed into the Vananchal Express as it was leaving the platform at Sainthia station, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of Calcutta.
Two passenger cars and a luggage car of the Vananchal Express were destroyed, leaving a tangle of twisted metal. The passenger cars were reserved for those on the cheapest tickets and such carriages are usually packed to capacity.
Local residents climbing through the debris searching for survivors were later joined by rescue workers using heavy equipment to cut through the metal.
"I had fallen asleep and woke up when I felt an enormous jolt and then suddenly I felt my coach turning over," said the 22-year-old Mahato, who was heading to the eastern city of Ranchi where he works at a call center.
"Three or four passengers fell on top of me and my right leg broke. I lay there crushed under dead bodies for a long time. At least three people sitting next to me in the coach died."
"I was trapped there in horrible pain until rescue workers with gas cutters cut into the coach and pulled me out." He was pulled out around 7 a.m., nearly five hours after the crash.
A passenger on the Vananchal Express, Mohammed Iris, 52, managed to crawl out of his coach an hour after it overturned.
"I was awake when the accident happened. Our train had been given the signal to move but it had barely started moving when I felt an enormous jolt and then I felt the coach turning over."
"Some 8-10 people fell on top of me and my left thumb was almost severed from my hand."
When he finally managed to crawl out, local residents pulled him to safety.
"When I crawled out it was only local people who helped me. They risked their lives to pull me out of the train."
Both men, along with most other crash survivors, were being treated at a government hospital.
Rescuers recovered 61 bodies from the crash site and at least 125 other people were injured, said Surajit Kar Purkayastha, a top police official. The two drivers of the Uttarbanga Express were among the dead.
Rescue teams arrived about three hours after the accident, a local resident said. Before that locals scrambled to help survivors out of the trains and to pull out bodies.
"For many hours it was just the local residents helping and it was very difficult to help without any equipment," the unidentified man told NDTV television channel.
Police official Humayun Kabir told NDTV, however, rescue workers reached the site within an hour of the crash.
By late Monday afternoon, rescue operations were nearly complete, said Samir Goswami, a railway spokesman. Cranes and laborers were working to remove the mangled coaches so the tracks could be cleared and train services resumed.