Train operator says the locomotive may have been shut down after it had been parked for the night, releasing air brakes.
More bodies were recovered on Sunday in the devastated Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, raising the death toll to five after a runaway train derailed, leading to a series of explosions. With dozens of people reported missing, authorities expected to find more bodies once they reached the hardest-hit area.
Quebec provincial police Lt Michel Brunet said on Sunday at least 40 people were reported missing, but cautioned that the number could fluctuate up or down. Brunet confirmed two more deaths on Sunday afternoon and said two people were found dead overnight. One death was confirmed on Saturday.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, which owns the line, said it was investigating the cause of the accident, but the release of the train’s brakes might be linked to how the locomotive was shut down on Friday night in the nearby town of Nantes.
“Every time the Surete [Quebec police] needs to investigate, we need to rule out any foul play,” police spokesman Benoit Richard told reporters. “Right now, we cannot say it is a criminal act. We can only say we are looking at it as if it was.”
Nantes mayor Sylvain Gilbert told local radio that town firefighters had dealt with a fire on the train when it was parked in the town on Friday night. It was not clear if that fire was connected in any way to the derailment, or why the train became unsecured in Nantes.
Montreal Maine & Atlantic said the engineer had secured the train in Nantes and left. It said the locomotive was subsequently shut down, “which may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place”.
The company’s statement did not mention a fire or explain when the train was shut down and company officials could not be reached to comment further.