Yellow Line rider recalls ‘really scary experience’ near L’Enfant Plaza

WASHINGTON — D.C. resident Jonathan Rogers wasn’t even supposed to be on the Yellow Line on Monday afternoon. A DDOT employee, he’d been at a conference at the convention center in downtown D.C., and was trying to take the Green Line back to the Navy Yard and his office.

But he tells WTOP he ended up with a front-row seat to the fear and frustration that ensued after Monday’s incident on a Metro train near the L’Enfant Plaza station.

Shortly after the train left the station and went into the tunnel heading south, Rogers heard the words “Next stop: Pentagon,” which told him he was on the wrong train. Right after that, he says, the train stopped.

“I think the power cut out right away, so everybody just thought it was a normal delay,” Rogers remembers. “Except some smoke started to come in at the tops of the doors, and a few people were concerned right away.”

He says people started to push the emergency call box, “but nobody responded.” Soon after that, the driver got on the intercom and told people “to stay calm.” “But you could hear he was a little worried, so it was kind of alarming.”

As the smoke got thicker, he says, “Some people had more trouble breathing than others.”

No one knew when or whether the smoke would stop building up, Rogers says, “and they were telling us to just sit there” while they waited for a train behind them to clear the platform so they could back up. “Just be patient,” Rogers says the driver kept saying. They sat for 40 minutes.

“We were just kind of trapped there,” he says.

Despite the delays in getting off the train, Rogers says, “I don’t think the driver or anybody did anything wrong … I think they really thought they could back the train right back up to the platform.” Rogers said the driver told them that there was zero visibility in the tunnel, and that they were better off waiting than trying to stumble through the tunnel.

Still, he says, “It didn’t work out that way.”

“The smoke filled the cars pretty quickly,” Rogers says, but it was a while before people had trouble breathing. Eventually, though, “it was starting to get hard to breathe, and if you started coughing it was hard to catch your breath.”

Some people were in more trouble than others, he remembers. One man who Rogers said had asthma was given an inhaler by another woman. And a middle-aged woman next to Rogers “was having more trouble breathing than anyone else. We were trying to keep her low to the ground; eventually she just lost consciousness.”

Eventually, Rogers says, “she was just laying on the floor, and she stopped talking. We were trying to wake her up. We kept checking her pulse, and she didn’t seem to have a pulse.” No one really knew CPR, Rogers says, but “we tried.”

Rogers and other passengers did CPR for about 20 minutes, “but it just wasn’t helping. They kept telling us to just wait and stay where we were.” They eventually said “there wasn’t a fire, which was a little reassuring.” Still, Rogers remembers, “There was not much we could do for this woman.”

Eventually, Rogers says, a large man picked her up and took her to the next car. Rogers doesn’t know what happened to her.

Firefighters eventually got them off the train and walked them through the tunnel. Rogers says it only took about five minutes walking single-file to get out, and “once we did get out into the tunnel, the air was a little easier to breathe.”

Rogers says he’s fine — “I just have black stuff in my nose” – but says it was “a really scary experience.”

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