16 July 2017 Read: 500
Prince Mudau is happy to be alive today. Four years ago, this month, he was stuck in the wreckage of a 26-truck transport train just outside Politsi. The forty-two year old train driver and two of his colleagues were returning to Tzaneen from Polokwane with their diesel tanker cargo (estimated at around 1 million litres of diesel) when the train derailed. He was working for Spoornet at the time.
“I will never forget that night,” Prince said. “It was cold and dark and I was in much pain. God must bless those people for the good work they do.”
Emergency service responders were on the scene within minutes of the accident and struggled for more than six hours to cut Prince out of the wreckage. When they finally managed to free him, Prince was tired, cold, hungry and in shock. His colleagues were rushed to Mediclinic Tzaneen with minor injuries and released the following day.
“They freed me at around 02:00 that morning. I remember that they tried to keep me calm during the whole process. I will never forget them.”
Sure enough, he stuck to his word and this week, on Tuesday afternoon, Prince Mudau travelled to the Tzaneen fire station to shake the hands of the men and women who gave him a second chance. It was an emotional moment and one that touched the hearts of everyone involved.
“It is always satisfying to see someone you helped save, carry on with their life. It is very humbling when they return sometime after the fact and look you in the eye and say thank you,” said Kobus Visser, Mopani District Chief Fire Officer.
The cost of the damages to the train and locomotive reportedly ran into the millions and the environmental impact threat was so great (diesel was leaking from a number of the damaged diesel trucks) that experts were flown in from Durban to contain the situation. The cargo was first dealt with before the enormous task of clearing the tracks began.
Mudau sustained serious injuries to his right leg and some internal bleeding. To this day his leg has not yet completely healed and he is still on medical leave.
The wreckage of the train still stands beneath the Politsi station bridge. The mangled remains of Prince’s train was placed atop a freight train. It is a haunting reminder of what could have happened.