The accident occurred at 2:40 p.m. PT Thursday while the annual “Hunt for Heroes” event was taking place.
As the last float in the parade tried to cross a Union Pacific West Texas railroad track, an 80 car eastbound train carrying double-stacked containers rammed into the flatbed truck, according to authorities.
First responders arrived and found two people already dead on the scene, while two others died at Midland Hospital and at least 17 more were hospitalized, a police spokesman said.
Ryan Stout, a Midland Hospital spokesman said, of the 17 that were injured, 10 were in critical condition while seven others were in stable condition.
About two dozen veterans and their spouses had been sitting in chairs on the float, set up on the back of a flatbed tractor-trailer decorated with American flags and signs identifying each veteran.
An AP report paints a vivid picture of panic sweeping through those seated on the trailer as the locomotive’s horn sounded, witnessed Patricia Howle, who was waiting at a nearby traffic light as the train approached.
Howle says her daughter cried “Momma, the train is coming!” tuning to look, Howle says she saw the trailer begin to cross the railroad tracks. Howle told reporters; “People were jumping off, trying to get off that trailer while the truck was still rolling.
“People on the trailer saw the train coming and they were flying in every direction,” she added. “I covered my face. I didn’t want to see.”
Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said, as the train was sounding its horn and about to make impact, some people were able to jump off the truck escaping serious injury.
The float had two flat-bed trucks tied together, carrying veterans and their spouses, police said.
The first truck safely crossed the railroad tracks, but the second truck’s trailer was hit by the train. Police said.
The gates and lights at the intersection were working at the time, and the train’s two-member crew sounded the horn prior to impact, according to Tom Lange, a spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad.
Lange also says the train itself is operational and its crew was not injured, adding they are being offered counseling.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson says the agency is investigating. A message left with a Union Pacific spokeswoman was not returned.
According to the group “Show of Support”, the festivities — included a banquet and an “all expense paid whitetail deer hunt” to honor members of all branches of the U.S. military. The parade was supposed to end at a “Hunt for Heroes” banquet where the wounded service members were going deer-hunting this weekend.
Investigators are still on site at this late hour according to police.
An Associated Press article identifies Midland as approximately 320 miles west of Dallas, Texas.