There is much to be thankful for this year: The health of family and friends, our own hard work and accomplishments, the achievements of colleagues, even the small triumphs of our daily lives. Tomorrow at their Thanksgiving tables, a number of families will gratefully recall the heroism of Amtrak conductors Richard d'Alessandro and Loxie Sanders. Earlier this year, these two men bravely risked their own lives to rescue passengers from a burning train.
On the morning of June 24, Amtrak's California Zephyr, with 204 passengers and 14 crew members, was traveling from Chicago to Emeryville, CA, when it was struck by a tractor-trailer near Reno, NV. Mr. Sanders was off duty and traveling with his family, while Mr. d’Alessandro was serving as assistant conductor when the collision took place.
Mr. d’Alessandro was knocked unconscious by the impact of the truck. He awoke in the desert near the tracks with a broken arm and a finger missing, yet his first thought was the safety of the passengers still aboard. He picked up his radio and called for help, before re-entering the burning wreckage.
D’Alessandro made his way through the smoke-filled hallways, ignoring his own injuries, and rescuing every injured and bewildered passenger in his path. He led each to safety through emergency windows until everyone was clear. But even then, he did not rest; instead, he found water and began distributing it to the elderly.
Meanwhile, Loxie Sanders began guiding disoriented passengers--one by one--through the dark smoke, out the emergency windows, and down to safety 10 feet below. He finally exited, choked by smoke and severely burned.
Sanders returned again to the train, helping still more trapped passengers to safety. Only when he was certain that the train was clear, did Sanders finally step out and accept medical treatment for his injuries.
While the crash took six lives, many more were saved thanks to the courageous efforts of Richard d’Alessandro and Loxie Sanders. One veteran safety investigator said, "That was the greatest act of heroism I've seen in all my years."
For their actions, the two men earned the Department of Transportation Award for Heroism. This is a terrific honor, but even such an award fails to express the full depth of our gratitude for their heroism.
Because of these two men, chairs at a Thanksgiving table that might have been empty tomorrow will be occupied instead.
We're fortunate to live in a nation where ordinary men and women step up and perform extraordinary acts--of sacrifice, courage, and kindness. I invite you to join me tomorrow in celebrating that good fortune. And I wish you and your family a safe and happy Thanksgiving.