Daniel Konzelman, 24, sprung into action when he and his girlfriend learned that an Amtrak passenger train had derailed and plunged off an overpass

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December 19, 2017 05:35 PM

Daniel Konzelman, 24, was headed south on Interstate 5 in Pierce County, Washington, with his girlfriend Alicia on Monday morning when he saw an Amtrak passenger train speed by.

“We saw the Amtrak train go by us on a high rate of speed, I noticed that but I figured trains know what they’re doing,” Konzelman tells PEOPLE. “When we got to the bridge … after about 45 seconds of sitting in traffic I looked up and saw the train hanging off the bridge.

He adds, “I realized, ‘Whoa! There’s been a major accident and we need to get out of traffic as fast as possible.’ “

At least three people died and dozens were left injured after the train derailed and spilled several cars off an Interstate 5 overpass, officials said. The train was making its inaugural run and officials said the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to the Associated Press.

Daniel Konzelman
Courtesy Daniel Konzelman

Konzelman says he and Alicia quickly rushed to the scene and were some of the first people on site.

“It was kind of dark and kind of foggy so we couldn’t really see the extent of the crash until we were up on the bridge,” he tells PEOPLE. “[We] looked down below and I was sort of overwhelmed. I was like, ‘This is major.’ And one of my first thoughts was like, ‘There’s still people in those trains who could be dying.’ “

He says he climbed through the broken window of one train car and inside found a man with a neck and back injury.

“A woman who was by him had head trauma and she was sort of unstable,” Konzelman continues. “I couldn’t get them out of the train without a ladder or a gurney so I stayed with them until I was able to get somebody else to just come be with them and make sure they were safe.”

Courtesy Daniel Konzelman

He jumped below the overpass where another car dangled by a wooded area, he says. Konzelman says another man showed up to help and inside another car they found an injured train attendant.

“He had been thrown on impact into a table and then into the area between the [cars] and hit his head,” Konzelman, an accountant, tells PEOPLE. “I think he broke his back. He was sort of pinned and couldn’t move.”

When rescue teams arrived at the scene, Konzelman and a police officer made their way through the rest of the train and found “the most seriously damaged train car” where, he says, three people were pinned underneath.

Courtesy Daniel Konzelman

“One person was seriously injured and he had blood streaming from his head down to his toes,” he tells PEOPLE. “An older man, probably in his mid-60s, was walking around in circles in total shock. I grabbed him by the hand and stabilized him by the hips and walked him away from the train.”

Konzelman adds of the victim: “He didn’t have any shoes on. He was barefoot or in his socks, just covered in blood.”

He says he stayed at the scene for hours, helping rescue teams tend to the victims. And, all the while, prayed that God would help him and the authorities rescue the victims.

From left to right: Warren Yee, James “Jim” Hamre and Zack Willhoite
Courtesy Warren Yee

“I would hope that someone else would do that for me if I was in their position,” he says. “I just wanted to be that sense of safety and peace to those people.”

Two of the three people killed in the derailment have been identified as friends, James Hamre and  Zack Willhoite. Hamre and Willhoite both volunteered at All Aboard Washington, a rail advocacy group.

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