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'Human error' in Spain train crash

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

Train collision
Firemen approach the passenger train that collided with a cargo train.

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In southeastern Spain rescue teams have been searching for more victims of a devastating train crash authorities say was the result of human error. CNN's Al Goodman reports (June 4)
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- The death toll from the crash of a passenger train in southeastern Spain has now reached 19, the chairman of the railroad company says, and authorities think the cause might have been human error.

Authorities have recovered the remains of 16 people, Spanish Development Minister Francisco Alvarez-Cascos, whose portfolio includes the national railway, said Wednesday.

The 10-car passenger train collided with a cargo train in Albacete province late Tuesday, setting the cargo containers on fire.

The passenger train was headed toward Cartagena, and the 28-car freight train was traveling towards Madrid, in the opposite direction.

Forty people were injured in the crash.

By late in the day, there were conflicting figures on the number of people who remain unaccounted for, but several leading Spanish media outlets were still reporting several people missing, citing official sources.

Officials blamed the crash on a station master.

"We want to state the initial theory about the cause of the accident. It was human error," Miguel Corsini, chairman of Renfe Railroad, said.

His aides said the 37-year-old station master erroneously allowed the passenger train, which had been waiting on a side track, to proceed before the freight train had passed. They crashed on a single track.

The passenger train had left the provincial capital of Albacete, 247 kilometers (153 miles) southeast of Madrid, bound for the Mediterranean port of Cartagena, said a spokesman for the central government's top representative in Albacete province.

The accident occurred near the village of Chinchilla, not far from Albacete.

Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar briefly toured the scene, which eyewitnesses said was horrific.

Angel Lopez of the Spanish Red Cross said, "The impact had to be terrible. There were six or seven cars pilled up. The engine practically destroyed. I think the victims were taken by surprise."

Juan Carlos Garcia, a witness at the "horrible" scene, said there were a lot of people crying out, "'my son, my son.' Someone else said 'my brother is on fire.' There were cries coming from within, people screaming, 'get me out, get me out.'"

Before this tragedy, Spain already had suffered about 10 train accidents this year, with several people killed and dozens injured.

The people who run Spain's railroads acknowledge there have been many accidents in recent months, but they insist the trains are safe.

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