Lights illuminate cars from an Amtrak train that derailed above Interstate 5, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Washington.

Lights illuminate cars from an Amtrak train that derailed above Interstate 5, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Washington.

Elaine Thompson/AP

When Monday’s inaugural trip of the Amtrak Cascades train along its new route crashed south of Tacoma, the lives of hundreds of people were thrown into chaos.

Two of those people were Emma Shafer, a Seattle-area student from Vancouver, Washington, and Dr. Nathan Selden, the head of neurological surgery at Oregon Health and Science University.

Selden was driving to Seattle with his 18-year-old son when they came upon the upon an unusual scene: A derailed train had halted the typically busy stretch of Interstate 5.

“The original reports that we read online didn’t sound as bad,” he said, “but as soon as I saw it, I instantly knew that this was pretty catastrophic.”

The train cars dangled from an overpass like toys tossed around in a child’s tantrum.

“They were just scattered along the embankment on both sides,” Selden said.

Emma Shafer was among the people aboard Amtrak Train 501, which derailed south of Tacoma, Washington, on Monday. Three people died in the crash.

Emma Shafer was among the people aboard Amtrak Train 501, which derailed south of Tacoma, Washington, on Monday. Three people died in the crash.

Courtesy of Emma Shafer

Shafer was inside one of the cars hanging above the ground.

“When we crashed at the bottom,” she said, “we were all kind of left at a 45-degree angle.”

Shafer, a dancer and freshman at Cornish College of the Arts, rarely takes the Amtrak Cascades train home — she usually opts for the cheaper bus ride.

But she said Monday she wanted to treat herself with backcountry scenery after finishing her finals.

Instead, her splurge ended in abrupt tragedy.

“There were some fatalities. There were some really horrendous injuries that I saw around when I was waiting by the medical tents,” Shafer said. “I count myself extremely lucky that I managed to walk away from this situation.”

Listen to the full story in the audio player above to hear Selden and Shafer tell their experience with Amtrak Train 501.

OPB’s Think Out Loud contributed to this story.