June 25, 1923 Intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues
“Those who died were fortunate it seemed to me when I looked inside the cars. As long as I live I can never forget it. All the people were in a mass there, struggling and screaming, with blood running over them. They all seemed to be bleeding or stained with blood. One woman’s head was terribly cut on top, and one jaw seemed to be crushed in. The hand of another woman was almost cut off. One woman I took out through a window died a few minutes after I carried her into the post office. I can’t forget the inside of those cars. They looked like my idea of purgatory.” - Traffic Officer Joseph J. Ryan who was on the scene immediately after the crash.
This incredible accident happened 89 years ago, Monday, June 25, 1923 as two cars of the BMT derailed and plunged 35 feet into the street at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn.
Surveying the carnage it is amazing that only 8 were killed and 70 injured in this train accident.
The motorman, Edwin P. Parcells survived and told investigators he was coasting, going only 12 mph as he was only 150 feet east of the Fifth Avenue station and preparing to come to a stop. There was a bump and he applied the emergency brakes. But there was nothing to be done as he felt the train grind to the right and begin to leave the tracks and fall over the trestle.
When the first train car went over the guardrail and landed on its side, it was more of a bump than a hard crash. But a few seconds later as dust and smoke were rising from the train and screams for help were heard from the first car, the second car, which was hanging over the guardrail dropped with a sickening crash headfirst onto the pavement and telescoped into the first car. Most of those who were killed were in this second car. It was later determined that the second car was the one that had actually derailed and pushed the first car off of the elevated tracks.
The driver of the automobile in the foreground, Douglas C. Fonda of West Orange N.J., narrowly escaped death when the first car of the train came down on the hood of his Dodge.
An investigation over the next week showed the cause of the accident to be a combination of many factors. The equipment on the carriage of the train was worn and faulty. Many of the guardrails and ties were rotten which enabled the cars to fall to the street. Spikes were not in contact with the road bed, bolts were loose and the rails spread apart too far in some sections.
This accident brought back bad memories to New Yorker’s of the terrible Malbone Street Wreck which had occurred less than five years previously on November 1, 1918. Over 100 people were killed in that subway catastrophe.