May 13, 2015
By Alex Napoliello
Emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train wreck, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. Federal investigators arrived Wednesday to determine why an Amtrak train jumped the tracks in a wreck that killed at least six people, and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
PHILADELPHIA — It was a long night for Max Helfman, who was on the last car of an Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night, killing 7 people and injuring more than 200.
The 19-year-old Watchung resident and his mother, Joan, were on their way home from a lobbying event with the American Heart Association in Washington, D.C. They had planned to get off at MetroPark in Iselin, but the train never made it out of Pennsylvania.
“It all just happened so fast,” Max Helfman said Wednesday afternoon by phone from his home. “Everything was going fine and for two seconds, the car started to shake. Before we knew it, we all just flew up against the side window. I actually had to catch my mom. She was literally flying towards the window.”
Helfman said some suitcases fell on top of his mother, but it pales in comparison to what happened to other passengers.
“There were some people who kept calm, who weren’t badly injured and could walk, and stepped up to the plate and helped people get off,” he said.
The Amtrak train was heading from Washington, D.C. to New York when it derailed on a curve at around 9:30 in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section. Federal investigators said Wednesday that the train was barreling along at 106 mph on a portion of the tracks limited to 50 mph.
Max and Joan Helfman spent the day lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill to support two issues: funding for heart disease research and promoting healthy eating among school children to help curb childhood obesity.
Max Helfman said his family “does a lot of work” with the American Heart Association, because heart disease plagues his mother’s part of the family.
Max and Joan Helfman were taking the No. 188 Amtrak train home Tuesday evening when, within seconds, their train car flipped on its side, Max Helfman said. He said the train immediately filled up with smoke and people were afraid it was going to blow up.
“People (were) screaming and crying,” he said. “Everyone was just in shock. They had no idea what just happened.”
Max Helfman said one of the doors was ajar about 8 inches, so he and others squeezed people through.
“My first priority was to get my mom off the train, so I did that,” he said. Then he helped others get off the train.
Max and Joan Helfman were then taken to Temple University Hospital’s Episcopal Campus, where they were treated for minor injuries, Max Helfman said.
They were both released about 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, and were back home in Watchung by 7:30 a.m.
Max Helfman, who just finished his freshman year at Emory University, said he’s still in shock but is “hanging in there.”
“It (was) a long night,” he said.