An Arizona brother and sister recount ‘very traumatizing’ Amtrak derailment in Missouri

The family was traveling by rail from Phoenix to visit family in Iowa for Independence Day

By: - June 29, 2022 4:01 pm
derailed train

MENDON, MO – JUNE 27: Police and railroad workers work the scene where an Amtrak train derailed on June 27, 2022 in Mendon, Missouri. The train, traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago, reportedly struck a dump truck at a crossing killing at least three people and injuring dozens. (Photo by Chase Castor/Getty Images)

A mother aboard a train derailment in Mendon, Missouri, on Monday climbed on top of the wreckage and went from train car to train car, yelling into each window while searching for her three children, according to her son, Dax McDonald.

The Amtrak train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago when it struck a dump truck approximately 100 miles northeast of Kansas City, Missouri. Seven cars derailed with hundreds of passengers inside. Four passengers were killed and 150 others were injured, with some in critical condition, according to a news briefing Wednesday from the University of Kansas Health System.

McDonald said he first heard a bang.

“I honestly thought at first it would just be a large delay,” McDonald said during the briefing. “I’ve heard of trains hitting cars before, but then when I started to feel the train start to tip, I saw the car in front of us start to turn, or fall over. That’s when I kind of knew that this went from a delay to a life-or-death situation.”

McDonald, from Phoenix, Arizona, was traveling with his mother and two sisters from Arizona to Iowa to visit family for the Fourth of July, KMBC-TV reported. While McDonald was sitting on the right side of the train and emerged from the derailment virtually unscathed, his sister, Samantha McDonald, was sitting on the left side of the train.

“When the crash happened,” she said, “I was on the left side of the train car that we were in, and I was thrown to the other side of the train car, hitting my head and scraping my face and hitting the right side of my body against the train car. … So because of that, I was bleeding from the right side of my face.”

She was taken to Moberly Regional Medical Center in Moberly, Missouri, for a CT scan and X-rays for her knee.

“Everything cleared up. I’m OK, obviously — just a little banged up,” Samantha McDonald said.

Dax McDonald recalled the person in front of him having a seizure and people immediately calling for help with broken limbs or unable to move.

Dax McDonald said he was looking for a way to get out.

“We kind of realized that both exits on the front and back of the train weren’t usable anymore,” he said. “The only real exits, we realized after a while, were straight up from us.”

Two survivors of Missouri derailment

Dax and Samantha McDonald describe the Amtrak train derailment in Mendon, Missouri while traveling from Arizona to Iowa with their mom and sister when the Amtrak train they were on derailed. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from KU Health briefing)


Survivors who were able to get out of the train stood on top of the derailed cars and helped pull others out through windows.

“I just remember the man that was able to help me climb my way up out of the train was actually, his entire face was scratched up, kind of like the side of my face,” Samantha McDonald said. “It was very, very traumatizing to see that in person and see that actually happening in real life.”

Matt Daugherty, director of business development for Life Flight, said because Mendon is rural, many of the first responders were nearby volunteer firefighters who left their day jobs to help assist.

Daugherty said 11 helicopters responded to the derailment, with the first one arriving within 20 minutes to help assist those who were most injured.

According to Daugherty, most injuries included head wounds, broken bones and cuts from debris.

Dan Manley, assistant fire chief for Lee’s Summit, Missouri, helped coordinate resources and response to the derailment. He said several agencies in the region are equipped to respond to derailments because they have received special passenger rail rescue training.

“I’m so thankful for the entire community of Mendon who came out,” Dax McDonald said. “We went to the high school — they already had drinks and food and water. They had the whole gymnasium set up. The whole town basically came out.”

Dax McDonald said he saw farmers drive a tractor through a field toward the train to help people. He said the community brought crowbars and ladders to help people out of the train.

Samantha McDonald, who is a pre-med student at the University of Arizona, was asked whether this event has changed her mind on joining the medical field.

“I think if anything, this kind of reignites the fire for being a part of the teams that are able to come out there and were on scene and were absolutely outstanding,” she said.

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Lily Becker/Kansas Reflector
Lily Becker/Kansas Reflector

Lily O’Shea Becker is a senior studying journalism at the University of Kansas. She is an intern with the Kansas Reflector for the 2022 summer. Lily has experience as a multimedia journalist, photojournalist, producer and copy editor for a variety of news outlets in Lawrence and at the University of Kansas.