The tanker, carrying 30,000 litres of fuel-oil and diesel, burst into flames which rapidly engulfed the local train from Bordeaux to Bergerac and spread to a neighbouring house. More than 30 people were injured, some with serious burns. It took emergency workers several hours to free some of the injured from the wreckage. The train driver was among those killed.
Witnesses said the tanker was half-way across the unmanned crossing when it was struck by the train near Sainte-Foy-la-Grande on the border of the Dordogne and Gironde departements of south-west France. The tanker driver, who was seriously injured, told rescuers several times: "I didn't see the barrier." Local people said the crossing came just after a difficult bend. Passengers who escaped injury spoke of panic as fire and smoke swept through the train's two carriages. "The doors were jammed and we had to break the windows to escape," said one man.
A preliminary investigation by SNCF, the French railways, indicated that the level-crossing half-barriers and flashing lights were working normally.