Train derails, spilling aircraft components into Clark Fork


MISSOULA, Mont. - Train cars and airplane parts in the Clark Fork River just west of Alberton were an unwelcome surprise for some Clark Fork floaters. Crews worked Friday near the Fish Creek exit, roughly 45 miles west of Missoula to clean up the mess after a train derailed Thursday.

Officials announced Friday evening that a cleanup plan worked out between Montana Rail Link and Fish, Wildlife and Parks will allow them to open the river to floaters on Saturday.

Three huge aircraft components are in the water, spilled from the derailment on the tracks above.

A group of five guys headed out on what was supposed to be a normal river rafting trip on the Clark Fork River near Alberton, but it was far from that.

"It was like something straight out of a movie," said witness Jon Skau.

It was Skau's first rafting trip. One of his friends pointed out the train carrying airplane components.

They thought it was pretty cool, but two hours later, "We're spinning around and next thing we hear, Jason saying, ‘Oh man, look at that!' and you know, there's three of the fuselages just sitting in the water," said Skau.

"I've never seen anything like this," said witness Jason Newton.

"There was 1,000-pound axles that no man can lift, just thrown like rag dolls, tracks ripped apart," said Skau.

They had a friend on the raft, an Army officer trained as a first responder. He wanted to check out the scene immediately.

"There was one BNSF worker and we had talked to him a little bit and he said he had seen a few train wrecks in his day, but this was by far the worst," said Newton.

NBC Montana reached out to Montana Rail Link officials who say the train came from Kansas City and was heading to Renton, Washington.

"Right now we are working hard, and we worked through the night, to get those cars rerailed and to reopen our main line, which we expect to be open by Saturday evening," said Montana Rail Link Spokeswoman Lynda Frost.

For Skau, being a first time rafter, he doesn't imagine himself hitting the waters any time soon.

"It's going to be a long time before I can settle back into that," said Skau.

Montana Rail Link officials tell NBC Montana the derailment is currently under investigation. They are hoping to get the airplane components out of the water quickly.

Officials say no injuries were reported and no damage was done to the Clark Fork River.

Another derailment happened last September, just about 20 miles from there, about 6.5 miles southeast of Superior. That time, 23 cars derailed and four ended up in the river. Most were carrying commodities, like sugar and wood chips.

The 2013 wreck was the only one in Mineral County in the last decade, but longtime residents haven't forgotten what happened in Alberton in 1996, when a 19-car derailment caused a chemical spill, evacuations and shut down Interstate 90.

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