By Sebastien Malo
TARRYTOWN, N.Y. (Reuters) - The engineer of a New York commuter train that plowed into a vehicle this week at a suburban rail crossing picked up an injured passenger and carried him off the train as it became engulfed in flames, federal investigators said on Friday.
The heroics of Metro-North engineer Steven Smalls Jr., 33, a married father of two, were described at a news conference held by the National Transportation Safety Board three days after the deadliest rail accident in the New York area in more than three decades.
Six people died on Tuesday evening after the rush-hour train, traveling from New York's Grand Central Terminal, struck a Mercedes sports utility vehicle that became stuck on the wrong side of a crossing gate in the Westchester suburb of Tarrytown.
After exiting the engineer's compartment moments after the crash, Smalls helped five or six passengers escape the first train carriage and then noticed a passenger who was unable to walk crawling toward the door, said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt.
"He picked him up and held him in a fireman's pose," Sumwalt said.
Smalls, an Air Force veteran, was interviewed on Thursday by federal safety investigators who described his demeanor as very professional, Sumwalt said.
"It goes without saying he's very traumatized," Sumwalt said at a final press briefing a few miles away from the crash site in Valhalla, New York.
Funerals for the SUV driver and one of the five train passengers killed in the fiery crash were held on Friday as investigators looked for clues about how the accident unfolded.
The grieving husband of Ellen Brody, who was behind the wheel of the 2011 Mercedes ML350, said she had been on her way to meet a new client and did not know the area where the crash occurred.
The vehicle became stuck on the wrong side of a rail crossing gate and was hit by the train that departed New York City during Tuesday's evening rush hour.
"Somehow she wound up in a strange, unfamiliar place," Alan Brody was quoted by the New York Times as saying during a eulogy for his 49-year-old wife, who worked in a jewelry store and was the mother of their three daughters.
He described his own thoughts when, in the past, he drove through the upscale hamlet about 25 miles north of midtown Manhattan.
"I also remember thinking, 'Are you kidding? Who could imagine that a major commuter railroad runs through this?'" he told mourners gathered at Chabad of the Rivertowns in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
A funeral was held in the Westchester County town of Mount Kisco on Friday for one of the train passengers, Eric Vandercar, who worked at Mesirow Financial.
The train was traveling at 58 miles per hour when Smalls saw a reflection on the tracks ahead, realized it was woman stuck in a vehicle and engaged the emergency brake. Four seconds later the train struck the SUV, moving at an estimated speed of 49 miles per hour, the NTSB said.
As the train ground to a halt, the electrified third rail snapped apart and twelve of the 39-foot sections skewered the first carriage, reaching the ceiling. One of the sections passed through and pierced the second carriage.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Mohammad Zargham and Bernard Orr)