Elizabeth, NJ Train Plunges Off Drawbridge, Sept 1958
The body of Mayor JOHN HAWKINS, 51, of Shrewsbury, was among those in the recovered coach. Authorities said some negotiable bonds was found in the car. MRS. HAWKINS had told police that HAWKINS, a New York stock broker, had left home with $250,000 in negotiable bonds.
Among bodies identified today were those of GEORGE (SNUFFY) STIRNWEISS, 39, former New York Yankee star second second baseman; and HOWARD W. HUNTINGTON, 54, a statistician of the New York Times financial news department for 33 years.
Among the missing and presumed dead was ELTON CLARK, 71, a director of Allied Chemical & Dye Co., one of the nation's biggest corporations.
STIRNWEISS, father of six children, lost his life as the result of a split-second stroke of fate â€“ he had swung aboard the train at the last moment just as it was pulling out of Red Bank.
The train, with 100 passengers aboard, apparently ran three warning signals. It ripped through an automatic derailing device that jerked it from the rails but failed to stop it.
Jersey Central President E. T. MOORE called it an unexplained accident.
Four of six crewmen aboard the train died. Including engineer LLOYD WILBURN, 63, Red Bank, N. J.
MOORE said WILBURN had an exceptional record in his 18 years as an engineer with the railroad and that a complete physical examination on July 21 showed him to be in top condition.
The engineer's wife said her husband showed no signs of either heart trouble or high blood pressure.
Skindivers, Navy underwater specialists and surface vessels recovered some bodies that floated free of the wreckage.
One of the first rescuers on the scene, boatman ED McCARTHY, said: â€œI tell you I never want to see anything like this again. It comes back to me how horrible it must have been for those people trapped under the water.â€
The train had made its way without incident along the north Jersey shore toward Jersey City and the ferry terminals to New York City. En route it picked up New York bound business executives, Wall Streeters and weekend vacationers headed back from the shore.
Bridgetender PATRICK CORCORAN, 55, pulled the switch that raised the elevator-type drawbridge to allow a barge to move through the heavily traveled waterway.
â€œThere was nothing I could do,â€ he said, as he told of watching helplessly as the train plunged into the water. â€œI heard the rumble, I can't describe my feelings. I never saw anything like this in my life .. I never saw such a mess in my life.â€
Aboard the train as it rocked onto the 1 Â½ mile trestle, there was little forewarning of disaster.
â€œAll of a sudden the brakes went on and everything went topsy turvy,â€ said ELWOOD E. DEHART, a 72-year-old passenger who survived.
DONALD WEAVER, 32, a Union Beach, N. J., clerk in a Manhattan bank, said: â€œI was reading my paper, I though the car was derailed. The next thing I knew the car was full of water. I got out through a smashed window. I couldn't touch bottom. There were five or six of us in the water. We helped each other ... It all happened too fast, much too fast.â€
The train left Bay Head, a north Jersey shore resort, at 8:28 a. m. Its last stop before the trestle was Elizabethport, N. J., across Newark Bay from Bayonne.
The trestle approach to the open drawbridge was strung with warning signals. An amber caution signal was a mile from the draw. A quarter of a mile closer to the draw was another. And 500 feet from the draw was a red stop signal.
Railroad officials said all three were working.
Engineer WILBURN'S train ignored all three signals, ripped through an automatic derailing device and bumped on for 500 feet over the ties before it plunged off the lip of the 216-foot drawbridge.
Estimates of the trains speed varied. Under normal circumstances, with all signals in its favor, it was limited to 45 m. p. h. A towerman said it hit the draw at about 30 m. p. h. Passengers aboard estimated its speed at up to 60 m. p. h.
Even then, but for a caprice of timing, the train might have escaped its watery plunge. The huge concrete weights of the drawbridge normally block the tracks when the bridge is wide open. But they had started to rise as the bridge was being lowered back into alignment with the trestle. Through this gap, the train plunged.
Syracuse Herald Journal New York 1958-09-16
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