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JOPLIN, Mont. — One of the three people killed Saturday afternoon when an Amtrak train that runs between Seattle and Chicago derailed in north-central Montana has been identified, authorities said.

Family members identified him as Zach Schneider, from Fairview Heights, Illinois, just over the border from Saint Louis.

They told ABC News Schneider was a big Green Bay Packers fan and loved a good slice of Chicago-style pizza.

The other two victims have not been identified tonight.

The westbound Empire Builder train derailed about 4 p.m. near Joplin, a town of about 200, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement. The accident scene is about 150 miles northeast of Helena and about 30 miles from the border with Canada.

Liberty County sheriff’s dispatcher Starr Tyler told The Associated Press that three people died in the derailment. She did not have more details. Amtrak confirmed the deaths and said there were multiple injuries.

WATCH: Officials give update on train derailment in Montana

“We are deeply saddened to learn local authorities are now confirming that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident,” Abrams said.

The train had about 146 passengers and 13 crew members onboard. The train had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, he said.

Those injured were taken to many local hospitals, where most were treated and released, said Sarah Robbin, disaster and emergency services coordinator for Liberty County, Montana.

Five are still hospitalized, but all are stable.

Megan Vandervest, a passenger who was going to visit a friend in Seattle, told The New York Times that she was awakened by the derailment.

“My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories about trains derailing,” said Vandervest, who is from Minneapolis. “My second thought was that’s crazy. We wouldn’t be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.”

She told the Times that the car behind hers was tilted, the one behind that was tipped over, and the three cars behind that “had completely fallen off the tracks and were detached from the train.”

Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where some passengers were being taken, Vandervest said it felt like “extreme turbulence on a plane.”

Residents of communities near the crash site quickly mobilized to help the passengers.

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Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a local school.

“I went to the school and assisted with water, food, wiping dirt off faces,” she said. “They appeared to be tired, shaken but happy that they were where they were. Some looked more disheveled than others, depending where they were on the train.”

A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.

The passengers were taken by buses to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and was alerted to the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board will send a 14-member team, including investigators and specialists in railroad signals and other disciplines, to investigate the crash, spokesman Eric Weiss said.

Weiss said the derailment occurred around 3:55 p.m. and no other trains or equipment were involved. The train was traveling on a BNSF Railway main track at the time, he said.

Photos posted to social media showed rail cars on their sides and passengers standing alongside the tracks, some carrying luggage. The images showed sunny skies, and it appeared the accident occurred along a straight section of tracks.

Amtrak said that because of the derailment, the Sunday westbound Empire Builder will terminate in Minneapolis, and the Sunday eastbound Empire Builder train will originate in Minneapolis.

Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railway Engineering and Safety Program, said he didn’t want to speculate but suspected the derailment stemmed from an issue with the train track or equipment, or a combination of both.

Railways have “virtually eliminated” major derailments by human error after the implementation of positive train control nationwide, Zarembski said.

“I would be surprised if this was a human-factor derailment,” Zarembski said.

Depending on how complex the cause of the derailment was, NTSB findings may take months, he added, as investigators must interview witnesses and sift through the pile-up and damage to collect evidence and then send samples off for further testing.

Gov. Greg Gianforte will be on the scene Sunday afternoon, and another press conference is expected.

Amtrak’s CEO, Bill Flynn, released a statement Sunday:

“We are in mourning today for the people who lost their lives due to the derailment of the Empire Builder train Saturday, near Joplin, Montana, on the BNSF Railway, as well as the many others who were injured. We have no words that can adequately express our sorrow for those who lost a loved one or who were hurt in this horrible event. They are in our thoughts and prayers.

We are fully cooperating with the investigation, working closely with National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration, local law enforcement and response agencies. We share the sense of urgency to understand why the accident happened; however, until the investigation is complete, we will not comment further on the accident itself. The NTSB will identify the cause or causes of this accident, and Amtrak commits to taking appropriate actions to prevent a similar accident in the future.

Amtrak’s immediate and sustained focus is on doing everything we can to help our passengers and crew, especially the families of those who were injured or died, at this painful and difficult time. Our Incident Response Team has been initiated. We have sent emergency personnel and Amtrak leadership to the scene to help support our passengers, our employees and their families with their needs. Individuals with questions about their family and friends aboard this train should call 800-523-9101. We have also established a Family Assistance Center in Great Falls, MT, and we will have family assistance liaisons at
that site to reach out to those injured and their families to make sure they get what they need. We have dispatched nurse case managers to support those hospitalized. As soon as Amtrak has permission, we will access the accident site to retrieve the personal effects of our passengers and crew.

We want to extend our deep gratitude and sincere appreciation to the Joplin and greater Liberty County communities and other Montana counties and their selfless first responders, hospital staff and law enforcement for their immediate and ongoing help to support of all those aboard the Empire Builder for responding with such urgency, compassion and patience.”

Other recent Amtrak derailments include:

– April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers were struck and killed by an Amtrak train going more than 100 mph in Chester, Pennsylvania. The lead engine of the train derailed.

– March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in southwest Kansas, sending five cars off the tracks and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a cattle feed delivery truck hit the track and shifted it at least a foot before the derailment.

– Oct. 5, 2015: A passenger train headed from Vermont to Washington, D.C., derailed when it hit rocks that had fallen onto the track from a ledge. The locomotive and a passenger car spilled down an embankment, derailing three other cars and injuring seven people.

– May 12, 2015: Amtrak Train 188 was traveling at twice the 50 mph speed limit as it entered a sharp curve in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven passenger cars jumped the tracks. Several cars overturned and ripped apart.

Hamada reported from Phoenix. Associated Press Tom Krisher in Detroit and Michelle Liu in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

ABC News contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Source: ABC7

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