A senior RAF officer told an inquest yesterday how passengers caught up in the Potters Bar train crash "floated" as their carriage overturned.
Wing Commander Martin Rose said he thought he was in an "an unsurvivable accident" when the 12.45pm King's Cross to King's Lynn service left the tracks at around 1pm on 10 May, 2002. Mr Rose, a navigator who was about to start a job at RAF Marham, near King's Lynn, likened the experience to being in a "tumble dryer".
Six train passengers – Austen Kark, Emma Knights, Chia Hsin Lin, Chia Chin Wu, Alexander Ogunwusi and Jonael Schickler, as well as pedestrian Agnes Quinlivan, died and more than 70 people were hurt in the accident. Mr Rose, 46, now based in Kuwait, was speaking as the inquest in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, began to hear evidence about the accident at Potters Bar station.
The hearing is expected to last more than two months. A jury had heard how the train ran over faulty points and the last of four carriages, where Mr Rose was sitting, became detached and airborne.
"The first thing that was not right was that there was a violent lateral judder," he said. "That was momentary. Almost immediately thereafter, I was aware that we had derailed. I was bouncing up and down on my seat. My first instinct was to try and save my drink."
Mr Rose said the carriage tilted and rolled. "It rapidly became how I would imagine it is being inside a tumble dryer," he added. "I floated up out of my seat." He said he then noticed an "elderly gentleman" – Austen Kark, who died in the accident.
"He and I were floating in mid air," said Mr Rose. "I blindly reached out and managed to get hold of a rail on the luggage rack... It was enough to save my life I would suggest. As far as I was concerned, it was now an unsurvivable accident."
He said he lost consciousness then woke up to find himself wedged in a gangway, realising he had "numerous" cuts. He then realised that the carriage was wedged on the platform.
The hearing continues.