Hours’ worth of video footage was deleted from the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, according to officials investigating the accident.
The footage, which could provide crucial information about the cause of the 50-car derailment that led to a dangerous chemical spill in February, was automatically deleted after the train was put back in service immediately following the incident.
Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, testified before a congressional committee Wednesday to explain the federal agency’s findings.
“In the East Palestine accident, the locomotive was equipped with an inward- and forward-facing recorder,” Homendy said. “However, since NS [Norfolk Southern] put the locomotive immediately back in service following the accident, data was overwritten and only provide about 15 minutes of data before and 5 minutes following the derailment.”
That means hours of recordings were wiped out, leaving just those 20 minutes of video evidence around the derailment. Homendy told ABC 6 that it’s vital for investigators to know what happened prior to the accident.
“It’s just as important to see what was going on before that,” Homendy told the local outlet.
“The train was going in the 35-40 mph range earlier and then between 40-50. So we don’t even have what was occurring around the first and second wayside (defect) detectors, much less before that, all of which is key to investigations,” she added, referring to devices along railroad tracks that can identify problems with trains.
The derailment led to dozens of train cars catching fire and toxic chemicals spilling out. A massive, ominous cloud of black smoke that overtook East Palestine became the focal image of the environmental disaster.
Earlier this month, the NTSB began its probe into the Norfolk Southern derailment, including a review of the company’s “organization and safety culture,” the agency stated in a news release.
“Given the number and significance of recent Norfolk Southern accidents, the NTSB also urges the company to take immediate action today to review and assess its safety practices ... and implement necessary changes to improve safety,” the agency said at the time.