Sur­vivor tells of horror Saw brother fa­tally burnt

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - KHAYA KOKO @khayakoko88 khaya.koko@inl.co.za

THE TER­ROR aboard the train that burst into flames last week, killing 19 peo­ple, has been re­lived through a Joburg wo­man who watched help­lessly as her brother burnt to death.

Last Thurs­day, the Shosholoza Meyl train ploughed into a truck at a level cross­ing be­tween Hen­nen­man and Kroon­stad in the Free State caus­ing the hor­rific deaths, as well as at least 200 in­juries. The train was trav­el­ling from Port El­iz­a­beth to Park sta­tion in Joburg.

Kele­bogile Mathe, 30, was trav­el­ling to the city from Bloem­fontein with her 24-yearold brother and five-year-old daugh­ter, where the fam­ily had spent the fes­tive sea­son.

Mathe yes­ter­day re­called the panic, screams for help and trauma af­ter the col­li­sion oc­curred, leav­ing her brother, Gift Mathe, pic­tured, trapped in the pas­sage while he was try­ing to re­trieve their lug­gage as the coach they were in burst into flames.

She said they were in a se­cond-class car­riage and some of their lug­gage was stacked in the pas­sage be­cause they could not load it all in the com­part­ment, which was full when it ar­rived in Bloem­fontein.

As she held her daugh­ter on her lap while Gift was busy bring­ing the bags, the young mother said she heard a loud bang when the train crashed, and then a rag­ing fire en­gulfed their car­riage.

She started to panic when she saw her brother be­ing con­sumed by the blaze. “I re­alised that he was not go­ing to make it, which was when I de­cided to save my daugh­ter’s life,” an emo­tional Mathe re­called.

“I first shoved my daugh­ter out of the win­dow, and then I fol­lowed her. I was a bit scared, but all I wanted was for my daugh­ter to be safe.”

Her daugh­ter, who sus­tained a bro­ken leg, has been re­leased from hos­pi­tal, and is in the care of her pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents.

Mathe suf­fered se­ri­ous in­juries to her back, ribs and neck She is in Joburg’s Mil­park Hos­pi­tal, and stressed that she was re­cov­er­ing well from her in­juries and the emo­tional stress from the trau­matic ordeal.

Kele­bogile’s mother, Ly­dia, told of the har­row­ing task of try­ing to iden­tify her son’s burnt re­mains. On Tues­day, Ly­dia, who re­sides in Free­dom Park, Tsh­wane, was ac­com­pa­nied by of­fi­cials from the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) to the Kroon­stad mor­tu­ary along with other be­reaved fam­i­lies to be­gin the daunt­ing process of iden­ti­fy­ing their de­ceased loved ones.

She said yes­ter­day that she had come to terms with the loss of her son, thanks to her Chris­tian faith, and de­scribed the dis­tress­ing set­ting at the mor­tu­ary as she waited to view Gift’s body.

“They took my DNA (on Tues­day). By the way things look at the mo­ment, what is left of my son is just ash. Three more bod­ies ar­rived at the mor­tu­ary, which were re­cov­ered from un­der the train, but the bod­ies were un­recog­nis­able, from what I saw.

“Mag­gots had in­fested the bod­ies and a pun­gent smell was clearly dis­cernible when the corpses ar­rived. I made sure I had a good look be­cause I wanted to see if there wasn’t any­thing from those bod­ies that would make me recog­nise my son,” the mother added.

She thanked Prasa for the as­sis­tance the fam­ily had re­ceived af­ter the crash, in­clud­ing ex­ten­sive coun­selling, say­ing she, her daugh­ter and grand­daugh­ter would re­cover.

“I lit­er­ally cried a river last Thurs­day when the train crashed, where I felt like I had run out of tears, say­ing to the Lord: ‘God, please cleanse my pain.’

“That’s how I man­aged to gather strength to be strong for my fam­ily. It is my role as a mother to be strong for my chil­dren,” she said.

Mean­while, Rail­way Safety Reg­u­la­tor (RSR) of­fi­cials have blamed hu­man er­ror af­ter two Metro­rail pas­sen­ger trains col­lided at the Gelden­huys rail­way sta­tion in Ger­mis­ton on Tues­day.

Brief­ing the me­dia in Pre­to­ria yes­ter­day, RSR chair­per­son No­musa Qunta said they had es­tab­lished that the cause of the col­li­sion was the man­ual au­tho­ri­sa­tion given by train con­trol of­fi­cials.

“What hap­pened was that a train was man­u­ally au­tho­rised to en­ter a plat­form at the sta­tion. Im­me­di­ately af­ter en­ter­ing the sta­tion, the train failed as a re­sult of a tech­ni­cal prob­lem.

“As that fail­ure was at­tended to, an­other train was au­tho­rised to en­ter into the same plat­form, which sub­se­quently re­sulted in a rear-end col­li­sion,” Qunta said.

She said the trains had to be man­u­ally au­tho­rised by the con­trol of­fi­cials as the nor­mal sig­nalling sys­tem wasn’t avail­able be­cause of problems as­so­ci­ated with sig­nal ca­bles.

Qunta added they had held talks with Prasa and de­cided to cease man­ual au­tho­ri­sa­tion of trains with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

At least 200 peo­ple were in­jured in the Ger­mis­ton in­ci­dent.

RSR pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tions could not es­tab­lish the ex­act cause of the Shosholoza Meyl crash.

Qunta said: “The rail­way line is equipped with whis­tle boards on ei­ther sides of the level cross­ing.

“The speed limit is 90km/h in the area, and it was found that the train was trav­el­ling at 78km/h.

“The truck driver tested neg­a­tive for al­co­hol. So at the mo­ment all we know is that five train coaches were se­verely burnt but we do not know what caused the fire.” A board of in­quiry has been set up to es­tab­lish what hap­pened.

By the way things look, all that’s left of my son ap­pears to be ash

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