A young American tourist has survived a terrifying train ride in which he clung to the outside of the legendary Ghan in the freezing dark as it hit speeds up to 110km/h in the South Australian Outback.
Chad Vance, 19, frantically pursued The Ghan after missing it in Port Augusta, managing to climb on and squeeze himself into a tiny stairwell as the train raced for almost 200km through the night.
It was two hours and 20 minutes before a Ghan crew member heard the Alaskan student’s desperate cries for help about 20km south of Pimba and brought the train to an emergency halt, the Sunday Mail reports.
“I was worried I wasn’t going to survive,” Mr Vance said of his ride.
“If I’d fallen off at that speed and hit the nasty-looking rocks below, I don’t think I would have made it.”
The Ghan crew member Marty Wells turned lifesaver when he heard Mr Vance’s frantic calls for help and pulled the train’s emergency brake handle, rescuing the tourist from a potentially fatal predicament.
“Chad is a very lucky guy – when we rescued him his skin was white and his lips were blue,” said Mr Wells, a technician with The Ghan’s operator, Great Southern Railway.
“We were still about three hours away from our next scheduled stop and in that time, he could have easily died of hypothermia or lost his grip and fallen to his death if he hadn’t been rescued.”
Mr Vance’s extraordinary tale of survival began when he boarded The Ghan in Adelaide on Thursday for the journey to Alice Springs.
Like most passengers in the seated carriages, he took an opportunity to stretch his legs during a short stop in the Mid-North town of Port Augusta around 5.30pm.
The university student, from the small hamlet of North Pole, in central Alaska, went for a stroll in town, but after losing track of time arrived back at the platform just as The Ghan was pulling out.
On board was all his luggage and valuables, including his passport and train ticket. Having already travelled by train from Sydney to Adelaide, after arriving in Australia on May 17, Mr Vance said he knew The Ghan would pull up just outside of town to change drivers before continuing its journey.
He decided to chase the train before it came to a rest.
Mr Vance said when he caught up to the stopped train, he started frantically banging on the windows of the first class dining carriage. He said the passengers ignored him because they “probably thought I was some crazy kid” outside.
After five minutes, the train started to slowly pull away again, leaving Mr Vance thinking he would be stuck in Port Augusta with just $10, a digital camera and the shirt on his back.
The young tourist then made an “instinctive” decision – which he admitted in retrospect was a “pretty crazy idea” – and managed to grab hold of the stairwell near the rear of the train and swing himself into a cramped sitting position.
As the night progressed and the train picked up speed, the temperature outside The Ghan plummeted.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology the thermometer dipped to 8.4C at Woomera on the night in question. Clad only in a pair of boots, jeans and a T-shirt, Mr Vance also had to deal with the severe windchill factor, which according to a weather calculator puts the temperature around -7C.
Two hours and 20 minutes after jumping into the stairwell, Mr Vance’s desperate calls for help were answered. Mr Wells said that after being brought on board, the exhausted and freezing backpacker collapsed to the floor.
“He was also shaking uncontrollably for several hours and complained of numbness to the left side of his body and arms and said his face was also stinging,” Mr Wells said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before and I sure hope I don’t ever see it happen again.”
Mr Vance received first aid from the crew – including a cup of soup – and was upgraded to a sleeper cabin for a hot shower and warm night’s sleep. His youth and a childhood of cold climate conditioning meant Mr Vance made a speedy recovery.
“I got off the train the next day in Alice Springs and headed out on a tour of Uluru and Kings Canyon,” Mr Vance said.
The psychology major student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, left Darwin today for Cairns, for some scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, before heading back to Sydney and then home on June 17.