Taiwan train crash: 'Can you let me hug her again?'

Monday - 05/04/2021 09:17
REUTERS / Family members mourned their loved ones at the Taiwan crash site over the weekend
REUTERS / Family members mourned their loved ones at the Taiwan crash site over the weekend
From a father cradling the motionless body of his six-year-old daughter, to a woman who lost her entire family, Taiwanese media has been dominated by the heartbreaking stories of survivors of Friday's train crash.

At least 50 people died and more than 200 were injured when the Taroko Express 408 carrying nearly 500 passengers crashed and derailed after hitting a construction vehicle that had fallen onto the tracks.

As funeral services and mourning ceremonies take place in the country, some survivors and rescuers have shared their experiences of the island's worst rail disaster in decades.


'We were not even meant to be on that train'

Chung Hui-mei's family wasn't meant to be on the train on Friday.

They had booked tickets for an earlier train that day - but had missed it. So they got standing tickets for the Taroko Express 408 - all the seats had been sold out already.

The family of four had been eager to get to the town of Hualien to mark the Tomb Sweeping Festival - a traditional Chinese festival when people pay their respects to the dead.

Ms Chung recalls that as the train neared their station, she heard the train conductor sound the horn. It meant he had "known that there was a situation ahead... but he didn't slow down the train," she later told reporters.

Seconds later - exactly 6.9 according to an investigation - the train slammed into a lorry that had slipped onto the tracks. Investigators said the train was only 250m (820ft) away from the lorry when it slid down, and that the driver - who died in the crash - would not have had time to react.
 

Relatives of the victims grieve near the site a day after the deadly train derailment at a tunnel north of Hualien, Taiwan April 3, 2021.
REUTERS
Relatives of the victims mourned their loved ones in a ritual
 
Mourning ritual
EPA
A day after the crash, relatives of victims grieved near the site where the train derailed
 


In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Ms Chung crawled around the carriage, frantically searching for her husband and 22-year-old son under a pile of debris and suitcases. She found them - but neither was breathing.

As she called out desperately for her daughter, she suddenly heard the 20-year-old girl respond weakly from under a tangled mass of metal parts: "I'm here."

Ms Chung struggled to move the debris, but stopped when she heard another person speak up from underneath the rubble: "Auntie, please can you stop doing that? It's hurting me."

Soon after, her daughter stopped responding and fell silent.


'Can you let me hug her again?'

On Friday, six-year-old kindergartener Yang Chi-chen boarded the Taroko Express 408 along with her father and nine-year-old sister. She never made it out.

They were heading to the city of Taitung for a family holiday to celebrate a Children's Day holiday that weekend.

The family had been sitting in the front carriage - one of three that sustained the worst damage in the crash.

Mr Yang was the first of his family to be found, according to emotional accounts shared by rescuers.

The 42-year-old had limped out of the carriage, and rescuer Damo Lee had been tasked with carrying him the rest of the way.

Mr Lee recounts that after he hoisted Mr Yang on his back, the man had weakly whispered into his ears repeatedly: "I still have two girls on the train, please can you help get them out quickly?"

Mr Lee said later in a Facebook post that he had assured Mr Yang that his team would do their best, and put him somewhere safe to sit and rest.

Just as the rescue worker turned back to the wreckage, he saw a colleague carrying the near-lifeless body of a young girl, whose "limbs were limp, and who had no blood in her face". It turned out to be Chi-chen.

Mr Yang then called out: "Can you let me hug her again?"
 

Mr Yang
REUTERS
Mr Yang asked if he could hug his six-year-old daughter one last time
 
A general view during a prayer event held for victims of the deadly train derailment, at a funeral parlour in Hualien, Taiwan, April 4, 2021.
REUTERS
Prayer events were held for victims of the train crash at a funeral parlour in Hualien
 


The elder Yang daughter was also later found, and is now in intensive care after suffering brain trauma and a cracked skull.

On Saturday, at a Taoist mourning ritual held at the accident site, Mr Yang was overcome with emotion and spoke a little to reporters. "We had just wanted to have a fun trip... I hope she can be my daughter again (in the next life)," he said.

Later, as family members of the victims performed the ritual and called for the souls of the dead to return home, Mr Yang was heard wailing Chi-chen's name.

"Come home to Papa!"


'He saved me but he couldn't save himself'

Li Jia-hsing and his wife had been looking forward to visiting their hometown of Taitung for a break. The couple worked in construction in northern Taiwan, and could only return home for visits during public holidays.

They had been standing in the middle of the train at a spot that connected two carriages. When the train derailed, Mr Li immediately threw himself against his wife and pushed her to the side, in an apparent attempt to protect her from the impact.

It worked, and she survived - but her husband did not.

"He saved me, but he couldn't save himself," the woman, identified by her surname Yang, later told reporters from the hospital where she was being treated for injuries.
 



Before they had set off on their journey, Mr Li had rung up his older sister, reminding her to pick them up at the station.

On Saturday, at a funeral home in Hualien, Mr Li's sister told reporters that she did not think she would end up picking up his remains instead.

Calling out to her brother in a mourning ritual, she said: "Your sister has come to take you home."


'Olaf Girl' and a rescuer's emotional tribute

Other stories that caught the attention of local media included a mysterious woman dubbed "Olaf Girl".

The woman was among family members of victims who gathered at a Hualien funeral home over the weekend. She was seen quietly clutching an oversized stuffed toy - Olaf, the snowman from the Disney animated movie Frozen.

She declined interviews, but media reports later said the toy had been a Valentine's Day gift from her fiancé, Su Yu-ming, who had died in the crash.

Mr Su's family members told reporters that the couple had been dating for around three years, and were due to get married next month.
 

A woman holding a stuffed Olaf toy
REUTERS
The woman was seen clutching an oversized Olaf
 


Meanwhile an emotional tribute by a Red Cross volunteer surnamed Zeng to the victims - some of whom he pulled out of the wreckage - has also gone viral.

"To the curly-haired girl, listen to what Big Brother told you. Everything's okay now, you can close your eyes," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"I don't know your names," he continued, addressing other victims. "But I hope you can peacefully leave now, we've rescued everyone from the site.

"Don't think too much, we'll take care of things. I pray you have a good journey."

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 Keywords: Taiwan

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