Why did a Metro manager take a subway ride that ended in tragedy?

Three separate probes opened into death of technician and his family's Swiss au pair

The state of the Metro train after the mysterious crash in which two people dies at the Loranca depot.
The state of the Metro train after the mysterious crash in which two people dies at the Loranca depot. LUIS SEVILLANO

Three separate investigations are underway in Madrid after a Metro subway accident left two people dead in unusual circumstances earlier this month.

José Manuel Pérez, a maintenance manager for Madrid Metro, entered the driver's cab of a train at the Loranca depot, situated south of the capital, with his wife Rosa María S., four-year-old son, and their Swiss au pair, identified as Jeanne A. He had seemingly decided to take the group for a ride, but it was one that ended in tragedy when the train crashed into the bank of earth at the end of the track used for testing.

A former technician, Pérez had worked at Madrid Metro for 12 years and was promoted to his most recent post in January. He had received basic training in driving Metro trains and would have been especially familiar with the new 8000 model that he was operating at the time of the crash.

Both Pérez and the 17-year-old au pair died on impact, while the Metro employee's wife and son sustained minor injuries.

The accident took place around 7.30pm on August 7, a time when the Loranca train depot is more or less empty.

He had received basic driver training and would have been especially familiar with the new 8000 model

On hearing the crash, a worker on duty ran to the site of the accident, and within seven minutes, Madrid Metro had alerted emergency services of the incident. Surprisingly, there were no explosions, but the mangled train made access to the victims very difficult. Rescue material had to be relayed to the cabin by hand, and the effort took over three hours in total.

According to video footage of the rescue, which EL PAÍS has had access to, Rosa María was the first to be pulled out of the carnage, and she was described as calm and coherent.

However, firefighters did not at first believe her when she told them that her son and au pair were still in the cabin, attributing the claim to shock. They subsequently pulled out the child, and then Pérez's corpse.

The twisted metal slowed down the firefighters' efforts to reach the au pair's body, which they finally managed in the third hour of the salvage operation.

Government officials informed Jeanne's parents of the accident that same night and have been in constant contact with them since.

Firefighters did not believe her when she said that her son and au pair were still in the cabin

Her father, Pierre A., the public prosecutor for the Neuchatel canton in northeastern Switzerland, and her mother, Claire A., a regional judge, flew into Madrid last week to deal with paperwork arising from the disaster.

Before returning home with the body of their daughter, in a brief statement, Claire A. told EL PAÍS that "what happened to the driver is very sad, but we have also lost our daughter."

The exact cause of the accident is still unknown, and simultaneous investigations are being carried out by the Labor Inspectorate, an internal Metro inquiry team and the Judicial Police.

What is known is that Pérez was driving the train manually, using what is known as "special key" mode. On this setting, the external protection system is deactivated.

However, he would have had several braking options available to him: moving the lever that starts the motor, using the emergency brake, pressing a button on the regulator known as the hombre muerto (dead man's switch). It is not known whether they all failed.

Pablo Cavero, the Madrid regional transport chief, urged the public to avoid all speculation and wait for the decisive findings of the Móstoles Court, which has been allocated the case. The video of the rescue effort, as well as the black box that was in the cabin, have been handed over to the court for judicial deliberation.

Pérez's widow is also set to speak at the hearing.

Metro regulations forbid non-workers to access the cabs of moving trains when they are in passenger zones, but a spokesperson for the company said that no such rule applies to trains while they are standing in the depot.

However, during his first public appearance since the accident, Cavero stated that "the rules that deny non-workers access to the depots and tracks are very clear." However, he did not place any blame or go as far as charging Pérez with negligence.

His funeral took place last Thursday at the Santiago Apóstol parish, in El Álamo, the town where he lived. The priest described him as "very affable and kind; a very good man," whilst a co-worker spoke of Pérez as a "brilliant person - both close and professional."

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