MEXICO CITY – A decision to change cars to get closer to a station exit may have saved Erik Bravo, a 34-year-old financial adviser who survived the collapse of an elevated line in Mexico City’s subway system that killed 25 people and injured around 80.
Bravo said Thursday that he and two colleagues from work were accustomed to taking the Number 12 line home from their jobs. His two friends got off late Monday, as usual, at their stops.
Alone, Bravo decided to put on his headphones and use the time before his stop at the Olivos station to walk forward through a couple of subway cars, to be closer to the exit at the end of the platform when he arrived.
The move likely kept him from disaster.
“You realize that, in some way, you got a second chance, because that could have been you," Bravo said.
As his car pulled next to the platform, he felt the train jerk, as if pulled from behind, and shudder to a stop as smoke filled the cabin. A male passenger shouted for people to lie on the floor for safety.
“People were desperate, they tried to break the glass, they wanted to open the windows to escape,” Bravo recalled.
The automatic doors wouldn't open, but a police officer told them that a door was open farther back.
Bravo walked toward the back not knowing the last two cars of the subway train had fallen into the rubble of the collapsed elevated rail bed.
In one of the last cars still standing on the track, two people lay unconscious on the floor. A little girl was crying. “I saw a man with his two little girls,” Bravo said, but he doesn't know what happened to them.
Stunned, he walked home.
“When I got home ... we began to look at everything that was coming out on the internet,” Bravo said. “It was a shock, I had been there. We began to see that people had died, people were missing, wounded, and here I was, unhurt, still here.”
Authorities say the collapse occurred after a steel beam that held up the elevated line broke. Investigators are now trying to figure out how and why.
The line, the subway’s newest, stretches far into the city’s south side. Like many of the system' s dozen subway lines, it runs underground through more central areas of the city of 9 million people but is on elevated concrete structures on the outskirts.
Allegations of poor design and construction on the Number 12 line emerged soon after it was inaugurated in 2012, and the line had to be partly closed in 2014 so tracks could be repaired.
The city's magnitude 7.1 earthquake in 2017 revealed some structural defects that experts say should have resulted in a total closure and complete inspection of the line. Instead, authorities applied some patchwork fixes and re-opened it.
While Bravo knew there were cracks and defects, it never occurred to him that it might collapse.
“Yes, you knew there were defects, but not that kind of defect that would cause what happened to occur,” he said.
Most think the tragedy was preventable.
“They could have avoided this, if the government had paid attention to the services they provide us,” said another regular passenger on the line, Ana María Luna. “But they didn't pay attention to all the reports” of defects, she said.
Even with the subway, Luna had to travel for hours to get to her job as a security guard. Since the disaster, her commute has stretched to three hours.
The collapse has temporarily closed the subway line, leaving thousands of residents on the south side dependent on bus service. People waited in long lines to board buses Thursday.
“Politicians don't care if they do things right or not,” said Victor Luna, who was trying to get to his job as a watchman.
María Isabel Fuentes, a domestic worker, said the subway's defects had long worried her. “Ever since it opened, it was scary,” she said.
Because it serves low-income neighborhoods, the line seldom seemed a priority, she said. “We're the same ones who always pay.”
Bravo has kept busy since his near miss, fixing up an old motorcycle he owns so he can get to work now that the line is out of service. His nights have been sleepless, though, as he reflects on what might have been.
“In some way, I feel thankful grateful to someone, something up there, that for some reason decided it wasn’t my time,” Bravo said.