An off-duty train conductor who clambered free from the wreckage and walked a mile along the track to get help has been hailed an “outstanding” hero.
Nicola Whyte was onboard the 6.38am Aberdeen to Stonehaven train when it derailed at Carmont.
After getting free she made her way to the signal box to dial 999 – with calls answered by Constable Liam Mercer and a colleague, who ran towards the burning carriages and started evacuating people.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson yesterday hailed their efforts, while praising the incredible response from the emergency services.
Due to the location of the crash and the weather conditions, first responders were pushed to the limit as they tried to get people to safety.
Four firefighters were injured after being hit by an uncontrolled vehicle as they worked. Two were treated at the scene while their two colleagues were taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with ankle and shoulder injuries. All have since been released.
Yesterday, Mr Matheson met fire, police and ambulance staff who had been involved in the response during a visit to Stonehaven.
He said afterwards: “As you can imagine, it was a very difficult scene to pinpoint exactly where the incident had taken place and then to find a way to access the site, so from a local policing view they were able to respond to that very quickly.
“There were 18 fire appliances here alone – a very significant response.
“I heard first-hand from the first responders that they were struck by the coordination on show by all of the emergency services in handling such a complex incident.”
Mr Matheson revealed that a crew member managed to clamber from the wreckage and get to the signal box a mile down the track to raise the alarm at about 9.40am.
Emergency services were dispatched, while the National Control Centre closed the line to prevent further disaster.
“It just demonstrates the courage and determination they had to try and help to deal with the incident as effectively as possible,” Mr Matheson added.
“I’ve been quite literally humbled by the way in which the emergency response teams dealt with this issue, and how railway engineers helped to manage this incident over the course of 24 hours.
“They’ve been absolutely outstanding, and the actions of this particular member of staff demonstrates their professionalism and dedication.”
It is believed the weather may have played a factor in the crash, with about 1.4 inches of rain falling on Stonehaven over a 24-hour period.
Following a tour of the disaster site, where yesterday one carriage still remained down a steep embankment, Mr Shapps also commended those who risked their own safety help those in need, particularly PC Mercer who was jointly first on the scene alongside a fellow police officer.
He said: “He said to me that his training kicked in straight away. He had never seen anything like this before for real, but he had trained for it and from all I’ve heard he didn’t hesitate, and straight away started helping people out of the train.
“It’s just extraordinary and humbling. This was a terrible incident that turned out to be a tragedy, and not to flinch and to just get on with his job was just extraordinary.
“What I’ve been very impressed about is the way in which everyone has integrated and worked together.”
The UK government minister extended his sympathies to all those involved.
“I went up in the helicopter for a bird’s eye view of the wreckage today,” he added. “I had seen the photographs before, but to see for yourself first-hand absolutely brings it home, and my thoughts are with the friends of families of those who lost their lives yesterday, and the half a dozen people who were injured.
“Thank goodness there weren’t more people on board.”
Last night, it emerged that firefighters who were at the scene will be offered counselling.
Although the four firefighters who were injured are now at home, the Fire Brigade Union’s regional secretary for Scotland, Denise Christie, said it was a traumatic call for all involved.
She said: “We will be making sure the firefighters get support.
“It may be in the aftermath that they need help. We will be fully supporting them regarding any stress or mental health issues.
“It was a particularly hazardous and difficult scene and our FBU north area officials are assisting and supporting our members through this traumatic time and will continue to do that for as long as it takes.”