A brave Stonehaven rail crash survivor has spoken of her ordeal for the first time – and told the tragic conductor’s family: “I want his family to know he was happy that day.”
The 32-year-old Stonehaven woman, who has asked not to be named, has described what it was like to be on the train when it crashed after a storm in August 2020.
It is the very first time a crash survivor has spoken publicly about the tragedy.
The train left Aberdeen for Glasgow but got stuck at Carmont near Stonehaven where phone signal is poor.
“Donald Dinnie (the conductor) made sure I had access to the train wi-fi, so I could notify my family of the delay,” said the woman.
‘The conductor was excited to get home’
Flooding on the line meant the train ended up static for two hours, so people chatted to pass the time.
The woman said: “Donald spoke to me about his partner (Trish Ewan), even joking that the weather would mean he’d get to finish early and was excited to get home.
“He kept us all informed, thinking of other people the whole time and making sure we were all okay.”
After getting the all-clear from rail bosses, the train set off back towards Aberdeen and was going at just over 72mph.
The woman said: “I was reading a novel on my iPad and the first time I realised there was an issue was when the movement on the train felt weird.
‘I was thrown across the carriage and was knocked out’
“It just didn’t feel typical. It was like floating or sliding – like when you aquaplane in a car.
“There was a strange noise like metal dragging along metal. I will never forget that noise.
“I looked up at that moment and almost immediately I was thrown across the carriage.
“I hit the window head-on and I was knocked out.”
Moments later, the passenger came to at the side of the rail line.
She said: “I could see the train behind me. The train was completely off the rails.
“The carriage directly behind me was laying across the rail track, crushed under another carriage.
“I later found out the crushed carriage was the one I had been ejected from.
‘There was blood all over my face’
“I don’t know why I survived. But I feel lucky every day that I did.”
She added: “I could see a fire and smell smoke. I became aware very quickly that I was hurt.
“There was blood over my face from a head wound near my eye.
“My clothes were also covered in blood and I could feel a bone sticking out my left shoulder.
“My ears were ringing so it was hard to make things out.”
‘I remember someone calling for help’
The woman describes a horrendous scene of despair and chaos as people sought urgent help and others tried to reassure them it was on the way.
She said: “I remember two sounds – one was a weird deep humming noise coming from the train and the other was a voice, a scream – someone calling for help and someone else shouting back that help was coming.
“I was just sitting in shock.”
First to reach the woman was a group of Network Rail workers, who had been doing scheduled bridge repair works nearby by complete chance.
The woman said: “I later spoke to another passenger who was travelling on the same carriage as me.
“It became clear from the information they were telling me that about 15 or 20 minutes had probably passed from the moment of the derailment to the moment I woke up on the verge.
‘I relied on others to tell my family I was alive’
“I just sat there.
“A short time later I was told the area was too dangerous, so I managed to get myself to safety.
“I lost all my belongings in the crash, so I relied on both another passenger and members of the public, to tell my family I was alive.”
The woman suffered two permanent injuries – a facial scar and a permanent disfigurement to her left shoulder.
She said: “I am reminded of the derailment every day when I look in the mirror.
“The scar on my face is a constant reminder of that day, but also a reminder that without it I wouldn’t be alive.
“I can’t sleep on my left side because of the damage to my collarbone.
“It also stops me wearing normal clothes, because it’s now not possible to wear certain bras due to the pain of the strap on my shoulder.
‘I panicked the first time I got back on a train’
“I’m really grateful to my family who had to step up and help me with everything.
“I especially want to thank my husband who had to help me with even the most basic tasks, like brushing my hair, in the months after the derailment.”
The survivor said it took her a long time to regain the confidence to take the train again.
She added: “I panicked the first time I got back on a train. My mum would come on the train with me so I could go to work.
“Any movement and noise that are even remotely similar to the derailment continue to freak me out.
“My coping mechanism on trains is that I pick certain seats and avoid vestibule areas and the places on a carriage where people stand, because I now know first-hand that there’s zero protection if you’re standing.”
‘I have moments when I feel guilty about surviving’
The woman said she still thinks about Donald Dinnie three years on.
She said: “I do have moments when I feel guilty about surviving especially when I think about the conductor, Donald.
“I remember him being a chatty and genuinely nice man.
“When I learned he died I felt an overwhelming sadness.
“I couldn’t understand how Donald was standing talking to me one minute and gone the next.
‘I’m truly sorry you lost him’
“If I’m honest that’s my main motivation for talking now.
“I want Donald’s family to know he was happy that day, thinking of his loved ones the whole time and above all else, he made us feel safe.
“I’m truly sorry you lost him.”
“I never got the chance to meet Brett McCullough or Christopher Stuchbury, but my thoughts are also with their families.”
Our Impact team put together a detailed investigation into the tragedy, including tributes from families of the victims, expert accounts on what went wrong and how a clever phone app helped save lives that day.
Read it here.