ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A vintage rail company that transports hundreds of thousands of tourists a year along the route of the historic Klondike Gold Rush suspended operations while it investigates a derailment that left 19 people with minor injuries, officials said.
Two vintage locomotives and four passenger rail cars were involved in the derailment Wednesday during a run of the White Pass & Yukon Route tourist train from Skagway to Canada, the company said in a statement.
"We heard a bang, then another bang, then there was shaking and then it stopped," passenger Jerry Cable told The Skagway News.
He and his wife Judy were two cars behind one that left the tracks and partially went into a small lake. Two other passengers landed in the water.
The cars left the tracks in Alaska, just short of the U.S.-Canada border, as the train reached the White Pass Summit, said railroad President John Finlayson.
The National Transportation Safety Board was informed but it wasn't immediately clear if rail safety personnel would investigate.
Medical workers went to the scene, where they outnumbered the injured, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Officials initially reported there were nine injuries, but Carol Borg, medical director at Dahl Memorial Clinic, told the newspaper 19 people were treated for minor injuries.
Finlayson said power was restored to the train, and it brought everyone back to Skagway, about 100 miles northwest of Juneau. The four passenger cars were removed from the site, Finlayson said in an email to The Associated Press.
The train is a popular tourist attraction, taking passengers on a three-hour, 40-mile roundtrip tour. It climbs to 2,865 feet at White Pass Summit before it turns around and heads back.
Joe Gilsinger and his wife Dana of Crown Point, Indiana, watched the car in front of them go off the tracks.
"Then the car we were in came off the ground, and I was thinking, where the hell are we going?" he told The Skagway News after the front part of their passenger car came off the rails.
Finlayson said the White Pass Summit trip offers passengers the type of view they expect on an Alaska vacation: mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and even glimpses of the trails used by miners hoping to make it rich in the 1898 gold rush.
Up to seven train trips were canceled after the derailment. The railway said it would suspend operations to allow the investigation to proceed and would run trains again when it could assure the safety of passengers.
"We're doing our very best to try to gather information as quickly as possible," Finlayson said.
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