Two women were killed when a massive falling boulder hit a passing train in the French Alps yesterday, leaving one of its carriages dangling precariously off a steep, snow-covered embankment.
Eight people were injured in the accident, which took place as the train travelled from the coastal city of Nice to the popular tourist town of Digne-les-Bains along a narrow, winding and sometimes breathtakingly steep track.
A Russian woman was killed as well as a woman living in the Alps region, said local prosecutor Stephane Kellenberger, adding that 34 people had been on board the train. Both victims were in their 70s.
Witnesses said an enormous boulder had struck the train, violently throwing one of its two carriages off the track.
Images of the accident show the carriage hanging off the edge of a ravine, with a large crater in its side as the other teeters on the edge.
"It was as if the boulder fell from the sky, like in an earthquake," said traveller JeanJacques Messaoud, 47, who said he had seen a victim bleeding heavily.
Another passenger, Floriane Bonnet, was relaxing at the back of the train when the accident happened.
"I didn't understand, I was thrown to the left and I saw the first half of the train go down the embankment. I tried to break a window but couldn't manage it so I left through the front."
Another woman was rushed to hospital in critical condition and seven others were lightly injured, according to local authorities.
Firefighters from around the mountainous region were drafted in to help in the rescue operation in a remote and mountainous area difficult to access due to the snow.
The 100-years-old railway crosses some 30 bridges and viaducts and 25 tunnels through valleys and gorges on an often hair-raising journey at up to 1,000 metres above sea level.