Snowmobiler hit by train, survives with broken leg
January 20, 2004
Two days after she was hit by a freight train, Becky Luedtke was still, understandably, freaked out.
“It’s just so unreal. I keep thinking my leg’s broken from a ski accident. I keep having to tell myself, ‘No Becky, you got hit by a train,'” Becky said Friday. “It’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
The 33-year-old Soda Springs resident sustained a broken leg when she was hit by a freight train Dec. 14, while riding snowmobiles with a friend and her husband, Chet.
The group – all avid snowmobilers – was traveling on a trestle near Kingvale, a place where they had been many times before. They were trying to find a safe spot to cross the train tracks and found a bridge crossing to get to the other side.
The Luedtkes’ friend went across first, and Chet waited on the other side for a hand signal from his friend to proceed.
The Luedtkes said they and their friend were wearing full protective clothing and full-face helmets, so they rely on hand motions to communicate.
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The friend motioned for Chet to go across the bridge.
“I got about halfway across and saw my friend run toward me motioning to speed up, so I just gassed it,” Chet said. “I looked beyond my friend and saw the train.”
Chet made it safely to the other side, and he turned around to see how his wife was doing.
“When I got there, I honestly expected to turn around and see her waiting on the other side of the track,” Chet said.
Becky started to move westbound along the tracks soon after her husband. Right after crossing, she was riding parallel toward the train, which Chet said was laboring up the hill eastbound at 5 to 10 mph, when it clipped the hood of Becky’s snowmobile and clipped her leg.
“It was so surreal because not only did it seem like slow motion – it was slow motion; but, regardless of how fast it’s moving, a train has no give,” Chet said.
After the impact, the freight train slowed to a stop. Becky had flipped over her snowmobile and was holding on at the trestle’s edge. Just below the trestle was a 100-foot drop.
“I thought I was falling off the trestle edge,” Becky said.
Chet and his friend scrambled to make sure Becky was in a safe position. They called Donner Summit Fire Department to dispatch paramedics and asked the freight train driver if he could deliver them to a bridge in Soda Springs to meet an ambulance.
However, an Amtrak train was coming shortly behind the freight train, and they arranged to have the passenger train take them to the crossing.
Then a CHP helicopter that happened to be in the area descended on the scene. All three people in the helicopter were paramedics, Chet said.
“The event itself was tragic. The chain of events that happened after the accident was miraculous,” Chet said. “The helicopter just happened to be circling.”
Four minutes later, Becky was at Tahoe Forest Hospital receiving pain relief for her broken leg.
“When people in this area recreate with the environment, you assume certain risks,” Chet said. “The greater the frequency of the activities, the greater the likelihood of risks.”
The day after her accident, Becky was at home recuperating and reflecting on the events of the prior day. Looking back on the incident, she said it still freaks her out.
“We go to church – I’m not as religious as my husband – but there’s no doubt God had to be sitting on that snowmobile with me,” she said.
Although her snowmobile was still functional after the accident, Becky said she doubts she’ll get back on that particular vehicle again.
But will she get back on a different horse?
“I’ll definitely snowmobile again,” she said. “But will I go by the train? Definitely not.”