Amtrak train thought to be going twice as fast as it should have been
(CNN) The engineer operating the Amtrak train that crashed Tuesday night applied full emergency brakes \"just moments\" before the train derailed, said Robert Sumwalt with the National Transportation Safety Board. The train was traveling about 106 mph as it headed into a left turn where the maximum speed limit was 50 mph, he said.
How do all seven cars and the engine of an Amtrak train jump the rails, sending passengers, luggage, laptops and more flying?
One possibility jumped ahead of all others Wednesday: speed.
Authorities haven't said, definitively, what caused the derailment of Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. But the National Transportation Safety Board said that preliminary data show the train's speed exceeded 100 mph before the derailment. That would be more than twice the 50 mph speed limit for the curve it was in.
An official with direct knowledge of the investigation earlier said that authorities were focusing on speed as a possible cause, given the angles of the wreckage and type of damage to the cars. The recorder, or \"black box,\" discovered at the scene could be pivotal by showing just that, former NTSB official John Goglia said.
Peter Goelz, once a top NTSB figure and now a CNN analyst, predicted that a definitive conclusion could come soon.
\"I'm afraid that this train might be going too fast for this turn,\" he said.
Investigators looking at speed as factor
NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt has said only that his team will examine things such as the condition of the track and the train, how the signals operated and \"human performance.\"
Even if it's determined the train was going too fast, that could be due to the engineer or a mechanical issue, such as faulty brakes.
\"You have a lot of questions, we have a lot of questions,\" Sumwalt told reporters. \"We intend to answer many of those questions in the next 24 to 48 hours.\"
Midshipman, AP staffer among the 7 dead
Whatever the cause, it doesn't change the suffering that many experienced Wednesday -- be they survivors dealing with physical and emotional trauma, or relatives of the seven people killed after a few frenetic, horrific moments. Some 238 passengers and five crew members were on the train when it crashed around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
One of those who didn't make it was Jim Gaines, a father of two who worked as a video software architect for The Associated Press, his company said.
His family asked for privacy, saying: \"Jim was more precious to us than we can adequately express.\"
Another was a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman in full uniform heading home to New York on leave from the Annapolis, Maryland, school. A family member described 20-year-old Justin Zemser as a great person and genius whose death has left his parents \"beside themselves.\"
Hospitals have treated more than 200 others, at least half of whom have been released. That figure included eight in critical condition among the 23 wounded passengers at Temple University Hospital -- the closest trauma center to the crash site -- according to Herb Cushing, the hospital's medical director. The number of patients there was down from 25 earlier.
\"Most patients' conditions are either stable or better so that's very very good news,\" Cushing said.
He said many passengers were injured when other passengers or objects fell on them. One of those hurt is the train's engineer, who received medical treatment and was interviewed by police, Mayor Michael Nutter said.
Authorities have not ruled out the possibility of more victims at the crash site.
\"We are heartbroken by what we've experienced here,\" Nutter said Wednesday morning. \"We have not experienced anything like this in modern times.\"
Amtrak train crash victims tell their stories
'A lot of questions'
The miracle may be how some escaped relatively unscathed, given the severity of the derailment. A U.S. Department of Transportation representative told CNN that the engine and two cars were left standing upright, three cars were tipped on their sides, and one was nearly flipped over on its roof. The seventh one was \"leaning hard.\"
\"It is amazing,\" Nutter said. \"I saw some people last night literally walking off that train. I don't know how they did it.\"