Greek authorities confirmed on Wednesday night that the death toll had risen to 38 following Tuesday’s tragic passenger train crash that was likely caused by a “tragic human error”.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “Everything in this tragedy points, unfortunately, mainly to human error,” said Mitsotakis in a televised address on Wednesday.
Many of the victims were thought to be university students returning home after a long holiday weekend.
Officials meanwhile said the death toll was expected to rise further — temperatures in one carriage had risen to 1,300 deg C after it caught fire, Reuters reported.
The train collided head-on with a freight train, derailing carriages, which then burst into flames in the country’s deadliest rail crash in living memory.
Authorities are working to establish how the high-speed passenger train collided with another carrying shipping containers, coming in the opposite direction and on the same track at speeds thought to be up to 160km per hour.
Passengers described a “nightmarish” crash which engulfed their train in flames just before midnight near the central town of Larissa, some 321km north of Athens.
It had departed from the Greek capital and was headed to the northern city of Thessaloniki.
Some kicked through windows to escape the inferno. Others were flung up to 40m on impact.
“There was panic… The fire was immediate. As we were turning over we were being burned, fire was right and left,” said Stergios Minenis, a 28-year-old who jumped to safety.
“Windows were being smashed and people were screaming… One of the windows caved in from the impact of iron from the other train,” another passenger, who escaped from the fifth carriage, told Skai TV.
A station master was arrested as investigators tried to work out why the two trains had been on the same track “for many kilometres”, while the country’s transport minister resigned.
As rescuers scoured the smouldering, mangled mass of steel in the morning, cranes lifted window-less carriages.
Fire brigade spokesman Vassilis Varthakogiannis said the temperatures in the first carriage made it hard to identify those trapped inside, or say how many died.
Based on that, the death toll was likely to rise, he said.
“It’s an unthinkable tragedy. Our thoughts today are with the relatives of the victims,” Mitsotakis said while visiting the site of the crash.
In later statements, he said he had accepted the resignations of senior officials in rail operator OSE and its subsidiary ERGOSE.