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Oklahoma father, son recount Amtrak derailment

Posted at 12:58 PM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 14:04:50-04

TULSA, Okla. — It was a simple welcome home for Oklahoma's newest heroes who made it.

Zac Helmerich, and his son Zac, were on a sleeper train headed from Chicago to Portland when the Amtrak train derailed halfway through its cross-country trip in Montana.

They were sitting across from each other in the observation car when they heard a horrendous screeching before the train bolted left and right.

"And then all of a sudden we were thrown against the opposite wall. The window and the train fell," recounts Zac Helmerich, the father.

Helmerich says they were traveling about 77 miles an hour, and it took about 500 yards to come to a stop.

"We were pinned against the windows and the ground."

The result was a massive disaster. Eight of the 10 cars came off the track just outside of Joplin and Northern Montana. They say a window near them shattered killing a man, also named Zack, but they were okay.

"Maybe because the glass didn't break that saved her our lives," Helmerich says.

Helmerich's first thought was to find his son in the complete darkness. Fortunately, he was fine. And the two began to help others who were injured in the horrific crash.

"We helped to unbury two people that were buried in the cafe car below us."

They also helped another man named Ben.

"He was bleeding from the head, Dad helped me carry him out," said Zac Helmerich, the son. "Then we literally found Zack. So that was a bummer."

In all, three people were killed almost 150 injured, but this father and son duo survived and saved the lives of others. It's an experience they'll never forget and they humbly say is something any Oklahoman would do.

"When you're in the moment, you're not like, oh my gosh, this is so horrible," says Helmerich. "All you think is I want to get everybody out of here."

But the fact is what happened has changed them both.

"I'm happy that I have, uh, I have another chance to give it all I got. That's kind of the way I feel," Helmerich states. "He's the hero. I was so proud to be able to kind of watch my son, absolutely selflessly, do everything that he could do for everybody that was on the train."

Now, investigators are looking into what caused the deadly crash. The national transportation safety board is reviewing onboard video and the data from the black box on the Amtrak.

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