“During the impact I could see human bodies flying sky-high, just like feathers when a pillow has burst open,” testified Hendrik Engelbrecht, a Sapa correspondent reported.
“I had to climb through two train trucks to reach the scene on the other side of the train. Bodies were all over the place.”
Twenty-four people died: 19 on the scene and five in hospital or on their way to hospital.
Engelbrecht, 51, was a manager at the farm Tulloh, between Malelane and Hectorspruit, which had subcontracted the workers killed in the accident.
He was testifying in the trial of truck driver George Mandlazi, 33, who has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts of murder, one of negligence and another of drunken driving.
Engelbrecht told the court he was driving his bakkie on a gravel road next to the railway line before the impact.
“I was driving about 30km/h from the east of the farm towards Malelane when a train hooted and passed me. As I drove along, I saw the truck approaching from the north side and headed towards the south.”
He said he had seen the truck earlier, and it was carrying about 50 part-time labourers hired to pick oranges.
“When the train was about 70m to 80m away from me, I saw the truck moving forward and it did not intend to stop,” said Engelbrecht.
“The train hooted again and again. It sounded so loud that even at my house, which is about 3.2km away, you could also hear it when there.”
The truck was about 80m from the railway line, and did not stop.
“As it drove through the line, the train hit it behind its [cab].”
Engelbrecht testified he stopped about 150m away and called Malelane police and ambulances.
“After I asked someone where the truck driver was, the accused before court came forward saying he was the driver. He was bleeding from his face.”
Engelbrecht said he knew Mandlazi as he had seen him earlier at the farm.
Melanie Erasmus, for Mandlazi, said he would testify that he did stop before crossing the line and that he did not see the train.
In a statement presented to the court, Mandlazi accepted that he was the driver of the truck on the day.
“My client would testify that on that day, after a request by a passenger sitting next to him in front, he had to pass by a certain house to collect tools. On the way to the house they crossed the railway line,” said Erasmus.
“As they returned back on the same road, he stopped the truck to look for oncoming trains. When satisfied there was none, he decided to drive through, but when he was almost across, he heard the train hooting.”
Mandlazi is out on bail of R3000.
He was driving the truck when it collided with a coal train on July 13 last year.
He was initially charged with culpable homicide, and then murder. The charges were reduced to culpable homicide during his first court appearance. The charge was then changed back to murder.
The trial continues.