Train inferno kills 170 in worst post-war Austrian disaster
publiziert: Samstag, 11. Nov 2000 / 20:21 Uhr

Salzburg - An inferno on a mountain train at Kaprun south of Salzburg on Saturday probably killed 170 people in Austria's biggest post-war disaster.

The train was travelling through a tunnel up a 40 to 50 degree incline when fire suddenly burst out, presumably at the rear. The draft from the lower end of the tunnel fanned the flames into an inferno within seconds. The effect was as in a fire roaring through a chimney. Flames and searing heat swept through the carriages giving the passengers no chance of escape through locked doors and closed windows.

There were only eight survivors who managed to get out of a broken window in time. Many of the victims were locals, others were believed to be German and British citizens. Hopes were almost zero on Saturday evening that anyone else may have survived the disaster. Salzburg - An inferno on a mountain train at Kaprun south of Salzburg on Saturday probably killed 170 people in Austria's biggest post-war disaster.

The cause was not known. A Vienna expert speculated it had either been a passenger holding an open flame, or a battery short-circuit and electrical fire. Engineer Klaus Eisenkolb, who helped design the 25-year-old mountain railway, spoke of an "external cause", even an "explosives attack".

The train had been packed for its nine-minute journey from the valley station of Kaprun to the 2,400-meter-high mountain station on the Kitzsteinhorn.

The passengers included many young people who had wanted to go to a snowboard event. The fine weather had brought out crowds. One of the survivors, who were all German citizens, spoke on Saturday evening of "terrible scenes of panic".

The carriages had been suddenly filled with smoke. "The people screamed in fear of their lives and desperately tried to find an exit." "They tried to tear open the locked doors or break windows. I only wanted to get out. I was only able to save myself because a window had been kicked in and I could struggle out."

The disaster may have had an unnamed hero. Survivors treated in hospital for smoke poisoning were quoted as speaking of a "very strong man with a ski pole" who broke a window of the train. This had allowed them to get out in time. Some had run downwards to safety, but others upwards and had presumably perished.

So intense was the inferno in the tunnel that it swept up to the mountain station two kilometers away, killing three people at the top with poisonous smoke fumes.

The driver of the train heading downwards at the same time was also killed in his cabin. No-one else was in the train.

Governor of Salzburg Franz Schausberger spoke of "the blackest day" for his province. "We've had no such catastrophe in living memory." In Vienna, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel declared two days of national mourning. Messages of sympathy came from around Europe.

On Saturday evening a rescue worker who tried to approach the train in the tunnel from above said: "The heat made it impossible for us to get right up to the charred carriages - I would say a lump." There was no chance of approaching the burnt-out train from below. the danger that it could suddenly plunge down on rescuers was too great, as the safety rope had also been destroyed in the fire.

No-one knew the exact number of victims eight hours after the disaster. It was expected to take days to establish their identities. From Maribor came a story of an incredible stroke of luck for 40 young Slovenian skiers approaching the valley station.

They had to grudgingly return to collect one of their number who had been inadvertedly left behind at a public toilet. When they finally arrived they missed the disaster train by ten minutes. As darkness fell on the mountain Saturday evening, salvage workers with breathing equipment again tried to get down to the wreck from above.

At Kaprun, dozens of psychologists arrived to help relatives of the victims. In many cases, it was believed that relatives had already been skiing at the top and did not hear for hours that their family members may have been killed.

Authorities in Vienna ordered an immediate investigation into whether service and maintenance of the train had been carried out at the required times. Outgoing Austrian minister of infrastruture Michael Schmid said the main carrier rope had been replaced with a new one in 1994. In June 1997 the train had had its most recent five-yearly major technical overhaul.

Three hotlines were set up for relatives: Red Cross Tel.: 0662-81- 44-300; Town of Kaprun Tel.: 06547 20-000; Munich Airport Tel.: (0049) (from inside Germany 0) 89 21-92-20. dpa qu cro 111745 GMT Nov 00

(dpa)

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