Europe

Spanish train driver says he cannot explain crash

  • 31 July 2013
  • From the section Europe
Train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo. 28 July 2013
Train driver Francisco Jose Garzon spoke to a judge and prosecutor in a preliminary hearing on Sunday

The driver of a Spanish train which crashed told authorities he does not know what he was thinking in the seconds before the crash.

A transcript of Francisco Jose Garzon's interrogation has appeared on the website of Spanish newspaper El Pais.

In the questioning - which took place before the train's "black boxes" were opened - he insists he was "not crazy enough" not to try to stop the train.

Mr Garzon has not yet been formally charged over the crash which killed 79.

Judicial authorities have said the train was travelling at 192km/h (119mph) despite a speed limit of 80km/h (49mph) on the sharp bend where it derailed, near the north-western city of Santiago de Compostela.

All eight carriages of the train careered off the tracks into a concrete wall as they sped around the curve on the express route between Madrid and the port city of Ferrol on the Galician coast.

On Monday, it was revealed that the train's "black box" data recorder showed Mr Garzon was talking on his work phone and consulting documents just before the crash.

But Mr Garzon was also questioned upon his release from hospital on Sunday evening - after reportedly suffering broken ribs and a head injury - and excerpts from that interrogation have now been published by El Pais.

'Scourge'

Mr Garzon tells prosecutor Antonio Roma he had not drunk alcohol before taking the controls of the Alvia train, "just coffee".

He was also consulting an iPad tablet computer which contained an electronic version of the order book and route, he says - insisting he was not checking Facebook or his personal email.

"What were you thinking before you entered the second tunnel [before the curve on which the train crashed]?", asks Mr Roma in a friendly tone according to the newspaper.

A woman cries during a memorial mass for the victims of the Spanish train crash in Santiago de Compostela on Sunday
Spain's worst crash for 40 years led to three days of national mourning

"I do not know, if only I did... the scourge I will carry for life is tremendous," replies Mr Garzon.

Asked again to think back, Mr Garzon, according to the published transcript, replies: "I tell you honestly that I do not know. I'm not so crazy as not to brake."

He goes on to say he activated all types of brakes, but it was too late. "Before I lost control, I had everything activated but I saw we were not going to make it."

Later, asked whether there was any problem with the track or train, he says "no, no, no", afterwards adding: "The key thing is that... at that point I needed to get to that speed [80km/h, the correct speed for the section of track]."

Answering a question about whether he had been on the phone to the control tower at the time, he responds, "no, no, I don't remember". "Black box" data have since suggested he was on the phone to staff at train company Renfe.

Later on, Mr Garzon expresses more confusion about his conduct at the time of the crash, explaining that as a matter of course he would usually begin to brake 4km ahead of the tunnels before the curve, so as to permit smoother braking.

But on this occasion, he admits, he was going at a speed between 180 and 190km/h and cannot explain why.

"It would be one thing if this took place in an instant," says the judge, "but you went for 4km at a speed much higher than you normally would".

"Four kilometres at 200km/h go very quickly," Mr Garzon replies.

Mr Garzon is suspected of reckless homicide, but no charges have yet been announced.

He has been released from custody in Santiago de Compostela but remains under court supervision.

Mr Garzon must appear before a court once a week and is not allowed to leave Spain without permission.

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