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'I heard a noise and then boom': Portland man survives deadly Amtrak derailment in Montana

Investigators say the train was going below the speed limit when it went off the tracks and don't yet know what caused it derail.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Sitting inside his car outside his home in the Sellwood neighborhood on Monday morning, 88-year-old Aubrey Green looks over photos he took of the Amtrak train that derailed in Montana on Saturday afternoon. 

Green was heading back home to Portland after spending a few days in rural Montana, where he spent time as a child. He was a passenger on the Amtrak Empire Builder train, which was en route to Seattle and Portland from Chicago.

"This is where I came out," Green said pointing to one of his photos at an opening in the rear of an overturned train car. "This is where you walk between the two cars. This is the front end, this is the tail end." 

Credit: Aubrey Green
Cars of an Amtrak train sit on their side after the train derailed on Sept. 25 in Montana. Aubrey Green, 88, from Portland was on board and took this image.

Green said he was riding in the train when he heard a loud sound. He doesn't know what the sound was, but thinks it might be when the train first left the tracks.

"Just a few seconds later, I heard a noise and then boom. It was kind of a hard, loud crash," Green said. 

Green said he hit his shoulder, and saw three women fly over the top of him as the train went on its side. One of the women's leg became stuck in the luggage carrier above him, causing her to hang above his head. He said at first he couldn't move, but then was able to get his elbow underneath him to help prop himself up and get out.

"This is where I got hurt. This is where I got bumped right up there," Green said pointing to a scabbed-over cut on his head. The minor cut was the only injury he received.

RELATED: Amtrak train that derailed was going just under speed limit

Green said someone else was able to free the woman. As he was trying to walk out of the turned-over car, he saw others inside injured, one person lay motionless. He didn't know if that person was still alive.

He says most of the passengers he talked to said they'd never ride another train again. Green did the opposite, he hopped on the next train to Portland to get home.

Investigators said three people were killed in the derailment, five others were sent to the hospital with serious injuries and dozens of other passengers were injured.

RELATED: 'Oh my God, we're derailing:' Minnesota passenger relives Amtrak derailment

At a Monday afternoon press briefing, Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Bruce Landsberg said a train owned by BNSF Railway had just passed through the same area about 80 minutes prior. Both the Amtrak train and the BNSF train have forward-facing cameras and investigators said they are carefully reviewing frame by frame of each piece of video to see what the conductors saw or didn't see.

Landsberg said the speed limit in that stretch was 79 mph and Amtrak train was going between 75-78 mph at the time of the derailment.

The railway is owned by BNSF Railway, which maintains the track was last inspected on Sept. 23, two days before the fatal derailment. 

Landsberg said every possibility is on the table as to what caused the derailing. 

"Maintenance is going to be a very big concern for us," he said. "We don't know what happened, whether it was a track issue or it was a mechanical issue with the train. So all of these things are open."

A preliminary report on the derailment should be complete within 30 days. A final report will take months, according to Landsberg. 

Meanwhile, Green said most of the passengers he talked to Saturday said they'd never ride another train again. He did the opposite; he hopped on the next train to Portland to get home.