* Parade started "Hunt for Heroes" weekend honoring veterans
* Safety investigators start probe into collision
* Many veterans had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan
By Matthew Walder
MIDLAND, Texas, Nov 16 Safety investigators
descended on the West Texas oil town of Midland on Friday to
search the wreckage of a freight train collision that killed
four people on a parade float carrying U.S. military veterans
and their spouses.
At least 16 people also were injured during the parade on
Thursday afternoon, which was supposed to have kicked off a
weekend of events, including a banquet and a hunting expedition,
to honor wounded veterans.
The National Safety Transportation Board said it was looking
into the crash and had sent investigators to the scene.
"Our team is in route," NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman said on
NBC's "Today" show on Friday. "We want to make sure that we can
identify what happened and why it happened so we can prevent
things like this from happening in the future."
Two of the victims died at the scene and two at a Midland
hospital, police have said.
One of those hospitalized was in critical condition on
Friday, a hospital spokesman said. Another was airlifted to a
medical facility in Lubbock on Thursday, police said. Four
others were in stable condition and 10 were treated and
released, according to police.
The tragedy happened as two flatbed trailers carrying
veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, some who suffered
major injuries in combat, attempted to cross railroad tracks
during the "Hunt for Heroes" parade.
"The first flatbed crossed the train tracks completely. The
second did not make it across before being struck by the train,"
a police statement said.
Veterans and their spouses tried to jump off the trailers to
escape the collision. There were 26 people on the float that was
hit by the Union Pacific train including a dozen veterans, a
dozen spouses and two escorts.
"It's hard to look at. It's a very tragic event, very
unfortunate," Midland Police Chief Price Robinson said from the
site of the accident on Thursday.
A Union Pacific Corp spokesman referred all
questions to the NTSB.
Many of the 25 West Texas veterans being honored served
multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to
biographies posted on a website created by event organizers.
They were described as having been shot on the battlefield or
wounded by improvised explosive devices.
Some described suffering traumatic brain injuries and
post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their deployments,
the biographies said.
The Pentagon said in a statement that Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta, who is traveling in Asia, "was deeply saddened by news
of the tragic accident."
Authorities did not immediately release the names of those
injured or killed.
A Facebook page for Show of Support, which organized the
"Hunt for Heroes" event, was filled with condolences on Friday
"My thoughts & prayers go out to my fellow Veterans & their
families & the whole community in Midland. This is such a tragic
accident. So sad," said one message, posted by Jeff A. Bingham.
Others raised questions about the dangers posed by the
parade route. "Taking them across those tracks in that manner
and by NOT ENSURING their safety by ensuring traffic would NOT
STOP was unnecessarily placing them in harms way," posted
Mitchell R. Mace.