SDF Canine Search Teams Deployed to Chatsworth Train Wreck
one of the train cars
Photo: Ron Weckbacher
On Friday, September 12th at approximately 4:30pm PST, a Metrolink commuter train collided with a freight train in the city of Chatsworth, near Los Angeles, killing 25 and injuring over a hundred others. Three Search Dog Foundation canine teams were deployed to the wreckage to assist emergency personnel in the search for surviving passengers trapped in the cars.
First on scene were Ron Weckbacher (an SDF civilian handler in service to California Task Force 2), and Abby, his Black Labrador. The team searched all four cars connected to the Metrolink engine. The first car had been reduced to mangled bits of steel after the Metrolink engine was shoved into it by the impact, making the search very difficult. Abby searched in several areas where, had she lost her footing, she would have dropped eight feet below into the wreckage.
Reported Ron, "It was very slippery and difficult at places. Thankfully, Abby knows what she's doing, and was able to maneuver well through these tough spots, including walking across four inch beams." During her search, Abby was supported by Ron and SDF Handler Gary Smith, who was already on scene in his capacity as a firefighter with Ventura County Fire.
SDF handlers Bill Monahan and Hunter (with L.A. County Fire) and Dan Solis and Sandi (with Kern County Fire) were also deployed to the disaster to assist in the search. Says Bill: "When we arrived on scene it was tragic. The loss of life was just devastating. Thankfully, the dogs did exactly what SDF has trained them to do, and impressed the other rescue workers with their ability to search the area so thoroughly and quickly. In the process, they brought comfort to all the families involved, knowing that everything possible was being done to find their loved ones."
Luckily, Ron and Abby live close to the crash site, but Dan and Bill were further away and had to be flown in by helicopter, courtesy of Kern County Fire Department. The helicopter picked up Bill and Hunter at a fire station close to their home, then flew to a field near Dan's house to pick up Dan and Sandi. From there, the teams were flown to Van Nuys Airport and escorted to the disaster site by L.A. City Fire Department. Dan says the time it takes to get to a disaster made all the difference in their ability to help. "The close working relationship between Los Angeles County, Los Angeles City and Kern County Fire departments made it possible for us to take advantage of the helicopter ride, which saved precious time."
Fourteen of SDF's canine search teams were in Louisiana and Texas, helping out in the Hurricane search and rescue efforts. "It's lucky that Ron and Dan and I were available and ready to respond," says Bill. "This is why the country needs a full roster of teams, at full deployment readiness, at all times-to give our communities the protection they need, and deserve.
A week ago today we paused to remember the tragedy of 9/11, and the truly heroic efforts of the men, women, and canines who struggled to save lives on the days that followed. Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, train derailments, building collapses can happen at any time, and we never know when our teams will be called to action. What we do know, is that thanks to the support of friends like you, SDF will continue to be a vital link in the safety net America relies upon in the time of need.
P.S. All fourteen teams that responded to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike have returned safely home, or are in route, after assisting rescue crews in canvassing neighborhoods to make sure everyone was accounted for.