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Suddenly the train made two jumps, then jerked forward and back. Sanderlin woke up. In the first-class car, Conductor Spaugh reached for the danger cord. Before he could touch it, another jolt knocked him off his feet. Lawson, the millinery salesman, grabbed the seat in front of him. The train jolted and bumped, then plunged over the side of Bostian Bridge.
The distance from the top of the rail to the surface of the water was just over 60 feet. To the people onboard the fall seemed to last an eternity. Col. H. C. Demming of Pennsylvania wondered why they were in the air so long. He tucked his pillow more securely under his head and reviewed his entire life, regretting that he had accomplished so little in the world. Auditor Sanderlin later recalled: "I felt myself going down, down, down. . . . I could [not] tell whither. My heart well nigh stopped beating."
As the train hit the ground the sound of breaking glass and the hiss of escaping steam filled the night air. The first-class car landed on its right side, tilted at a 45-degree angle. Lawson landed on George Bowley, the rubber salesman. "That you, Louisville?" asked Bowley, who could not remember his new friend's name. "Yes," came the reply. "Is that you, Atlanta?"
The train's wheels continued to revolve noisily. Strong at first, the motor's pulse began to fade. Lawson and Bowley tried to get their bearings in the absolute darkness. All around them the cries and groans of the injured grew louder and louder. The two men climbed out a window. Lawson noticed blood flowing freely from several cuts, including a large one on the left side of his face.
The second-class car lay along the embankment atop the tender, a special car designed to carry fuel and water. Both were next to the engine, which had ploughed into the soft earth. The sleeper car lay with one end in Third Creek.
Bennehan Cameron had been asleep until the moment of impact. Now he felt timbers closing in on him in his berth. He was certain he was doomed. Water began to rise to his chest, then to his neck. The wreckage had dammed up the creek. Cameron yelled for help. No one answered. He worked desperately to free himself.