First responders look back on tragic BNSF train crash

First responders look back on tragic BNSF train crash
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA

PANHANDLE, TX (KFDA) - It was one of the deadliest train accidents in our area, and one year later we remember the victims of the BNSF train crash.

To this day, many continue to carry heavy hearts for the families who lost their loved ones and for those who were impacted by the crash.

Terry Coffee, a Panhandle EMS, describes June 28, 2016 as a normal summer morning.

He recalls being at the EMS station whenever he received a disturbing call from his city secretary.

"We got the call we had a train derailment, but we had no idea we had two trains that collided," Coffee said.

Coffee says as he and his partner left the station they saw big black cloud of smoke and were not prepared for what they were about to see.

"My first thoughts when I saw the accident were that nobody could of survived this," Coffee said. "We were crossing our fingers and praying someone or they all could of jumped off."

He describes the scene as unreal and says he still remembers the sound of the fire and the intensity of the heat.

"We had one person walking around that was on the train and he told us he jumped," Coffee said. "We put him in a vehicle at that time and we had to do a quick triage. He looked like he was doing okay. We had him walking. We had others watching him. We went back out to look for any survivors that might have jumped from the train or had been thrown off."

Coffee says this collision was one of the worst things he has seen in person, and other first responders agree.

Crews from across the Panhandle responded to the deadly crash.

Many of the crews and volunteers worked over 30 hours straight as they controlled the flames and searched the wreckage for survivors.

"It was something tragic, and this accident was pretty tough to put down because we did not recover one of the victims," Panhandle Fire Chief Terry Chavez said.

Lara Taylor, Kenneth Paul Smith and Cody Owens lost their lives that day, and several people are still in awe Derek Schilling survived the collision.

"For somebody to survive a tragedy and an accident of that magnitude it is amazing we had somebody survive," Chavez said. "When I first arrived on scene, I wouldn't have expected anybody to survive that train accident."

Chavez says his crew continued to monitor and make daily safety checks of the wreckage for about a week.

Both first responders agree they will always carry this crash with them and say this disaster brought together the entire Panhandle.

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