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Monday, 11 October, 1999, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Why train crash toll fell
train crash paddington
Police now say that up to 40 people died in the crash
In the few days following the train crash outside Paddington station in west London, the anticipated number of dead has dropped from a possible 170 to 40.

London Train Crash
Initial reports suggested that eight people had died - and in the hours that followed, the numbers of anticipated fatalities shot up to more than 100.

The exact figures are still not known, but it is becoming clear that far fewer people died on the train than was feared a few days ago.

On 10 October, Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter said it was now believed the final death toll would be no higher than 40.

train crash paddington
The fire was not as fierce as previously thought
He told reporters at the scene of the disaster: "As we started to look at the falling missing person numbers and receiving calls from those who escaped carriage H, we started to think that hopefully more and more people were alive.

"This hope now seems to be reality."

A number of factors have added to the confusion of who may have boarded the train - and been on it when the collision happened.

The first inflation of the numbers came after the police said that up to 70 had died and that another 100 were unaccounted for.

Many of the dead were included in the figure for those unaccounted for, but some reporters added the two numbers together.

Malicious callers

Then there was the fact that of the thousands of terrified family members who called in to see if their loved ones were among the casualties, not all phoned back to say they had been safely reunited.

Weirdly, but apparently not unusually, there were a number of malicious callers reporting fake possible casualties.

Emergency service operators say it is a common feature of large disasters that people will pretend to know someone who is involved.

Mr Trotter told reporters: "We are looking closely at those who may have wasted our time but I do not want to make a major issue of it."

Thames Valley Police Force, which covers Reading, is investigating one call which it believes was "deliberately malicious".

flowers for  victims
Some callers claiming to be relatives of victims were hoaxers
Another muddling factor was that Paddington is where the Heathrow Express leaves from - so many people who had boarded one of the trains had disembarked and left to go on holiday, ignorant of the carnage unfolding behind them.

Back in 1987 when the Herald of Free Enterprise sank in Zeebrugge, it came out that some of the passengers were not where they had told their families they might be.

One victim, for example, had been leading a double life and had families in both Holland and the UK - and neither one knew about the other.

A less extreme form of this situation could account for the inflated death toll figures, if, for example, people lied about where they were going that morning.

As it is, 30 bodies have been found - although they haven't all been identified. Police say they have serious concerns about 10 others.

Papers found in wreckage

It is now emerging that temperatures in the front carriage which bore the brunt of the fire were not as high as first estimated.

This means that many personal papers and documents have been retrieved from the carriage, a fact which will help to identify the missing.

One body was found in the wreckage of that carriage, but police have confirmed that it seated 48, and that more passengers usually made their way to the front of the train as it approached Paddington station.

However, they say that they now believe many more people were able to escape the flames than they initially thought.

Approximately 50 remain unaccounted for, but police say there is a high probability that these people never boarded the train.

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


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