Elm Grove, WI
Bumper to bumper traffic going to parade. Minivan on train tracks. Train whistle; lights begin to flash, RR gates go down; train is 30 seconds away. 40 year old Monica Partenfelder is at wheel of minivan; her 2 year old son in child safety seat in back seat. She is blocked in traffic, trying to maneuver off of tracks. She guns engine, minivan flips sideways to face directly towards oncoming train. Front wheel drive minivan's front wheels now will not gain traction in gravel along sides of RR tracks. She is burning rubber and going nowhere.
Traffic cop John Krahn, 41, comes running, opens drivers door, yanks Ms. Partenfelder out, begins trying to gain entrance to back seat.
Scott Partenfelder, 47 year old husband of Monica, is in traffic several cars back, with two other of the family's children, and comes running on foot. He opens the rear side door of the minivan and tries to extricate his 2 year old son from the child safety seat.
The train hits the minivan. Both Mr. Partenfelder and Officer Krahn are sent flying through the air, sustaining serious injuries. The minivan is sent flying through the air, ending up 200 feet(!) from the site of the impact. Minivan's front end is crushed in. Onlookers rush to the injured Officer Krahn, who screams at them "Get the kid out of the van!" Onlookers rush to the minivan, find the child uninjured and secured in a child safety seat which "has not moved an inch."
Officer Krahn underwent surgery and is in "satisfactory" condition. Scott Partenfelder underwent 8 hours of surgery, is in critical condition, yet is expected to recover.
Train Rescue: Father and Officer Called Heroes
Heroic Rescue: Two Hurt
Factors, among many, which I suspect played parts in the child's survival:
1) The train engineer saw the trouble from a good distance away, and had begun braking the train and cutting the train's speed as much as possible.
2) The minivan was directly facing and squared up to the impact. American vehicles are engineered to withstand head on impacts. They have crumple zones and reinforced protections for passenger compartments.
3) It's a blessing that Scott Partenfelder was unable to loose the child safety seat restraints. Had he unbuckled the child, things could have taken a worse turn.