Human remains found in tunnel 3 years after train disaster

Grieving family members of the victims of one of Taiwan’s worst train disasters had old wounds reopened for the second time after human remains and belongings were found in a railway tunnel in Hualien County recently.

The advocacy group “Tears of Taroko,” formed by family members of victims of the April 2, 2021, Hualien Train Derailment, issued a press release this morning, May 8, informing the public that a search of the Qingshui Tunnel had uncovered the remains of 11 victims.

A total of 49 people died, and more than 200 were injured when the Taroko Express train bound for Taitung City derailed and crashed into the entrance of the tunnel a little more than three years ago.

Family members of the victims first had old wounds reopened when one of the family members discovered human remains on a carriage that had been set up as a memorial to the disaster at a railway museum park in northern Taiwan last year. On August 31, 2023, “Tears of Taroko,” representative, Wang Wei-chun (王薇君), had just laid a wreath of flowers in honor of the victims when she noticed a piece of victim’s clothing, and a palm-sized piece of bone suspected to be part of a skull. A thorough search by the Railway Police Bureau uncovered bone fragments identified as belonging to 10 of the victims, along with clothing and personal belongings.

After realizing that the disaster scene had not been properly cleaned up it was realized that there were probably victim’s remains and belongings in the tunnel where the disaster happened. Five or six family members accompanied by Taiwan Railway personnel and staff of the Hualien District Prosecutor’s Office were taken into the tunnel at around midnight on February 27 and March 20 this year. The group found bone fragments and personal belongings of 11 people.

searchers examine bone fragments in railway tunnel
Bone fragments found in tunnel three years after train disaster.

Tears of Taroko member, Chen Peng-nian, said that the situation was both “ridiculous and heart-wrenching.” When remains and items were found in the train carriage last year, it drew criticism of the Taiwan Railways Corporation, the Hualien District Prosecutor’s Office, police, and the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The Executive Yuan held an inquiry into the issue. However, it has happened again.

“It is really difficult to describe in words the shock and sorrow in our hearts. What is shocking is that such a major accident was handled with such a careless attitude; what is sad is that a part of our beloved family members were forgotten in a dark tunnel for nearly 3 years.”

Family members said that they understood that the rescue operation during the Taroko accident was quite urgent and chaotic, so they appealed with deep sorrow, please, please, please let all the pain stop here. Through the painful experience of this accident, when similar major accidents occur in the future there should be clear standard operating procedures for handling the post-disaster situation.

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