“My Wife is Still Missing”-Husband Cries out Four Years after Cameroon Train Crash

Thomas Dissaké flips through his family photo album- pausing at a picture of his wife wearing an immaculate white wedding gown with a matching headscarf - it’s one of the few things he has left to keep her memory alive.

The lawyer’s wife, Henriette, was onboard train Number 152 when it crashed on October 22nd, 2016 in Eseka, over 100 kilometres from Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde. To this day, her body has not been recovered.

It is the fruitless search that has been most traumatizing to Disaké.

“We went as far as to exhume a corpse in one part of Cameroon,” he tells Timescape Magazine.

“But unfortunately, when the DNA analysis was done in France, it showed that she was not the one.”

He says the pain and anguish he feels will probably stay with him for the rest of his life.

“The feeling (of loss) is there. Immeasurable... indescriptible even.”

29-year old journalist, Frank Foute was however lucky to survive the crash. The traumatic experience found an exit in a book he published three months after the crash, entitled “The Day I Will Never Forget.”

“I had the opportunity to follow up a sort of treatment with a psychologist who helped me to overcome the trauma, and the fact that I wrote a book on what I lived that day, helped me also to overcome the trauma,” Foute says.

He says the book is a faithful rundown of his activities for that day, from when he “woke up from bed to the accident, the people I met, the different stories from people who were on the train with me, so that is what the plot is all about.”

The fatal day started when a metallic bridge on the main highway between Yaounde and Douala, the commercial capital, collapsed at the locality of Manyaï, cutting the link between the two main cities of the country.

People then rushed to the Yaounde train station to take the intercity train.  To deal with the demand, the railway company increased the number of wagons. A few hours after it departed, the train crashed at the city of Eseka, some 100km from the Capital, Yaounde.

A formal government investigation blamed the crash on a range of factors including excessive speed, overloading, and a brakes system that had gone faulty. The railway company sacked 11 of its employees for their roles in the crash.  

Michel Ossock, the Deputy Director-General of CAMRAIL tells Timescape Magazine that his company is making huge investments to improve the safety of their trains.

He said the company has been investing 21 million USD every year to modernize the railway system. Over 395 million USD has been invested in Cameroon’s railway system over the past twenty years, he said.

“That translates to 330km of railway line that has been renovated out of the 890km available, and 15 metal bridges have been rehabilitated, all this is done in partnership with the state of Cameroon within the framework of the five-year programmes we've committed to. And we think that today, modernization is on a good footing and the projects underway will make it possible to move forward,” Mr. Ossock said.

As Cameroon on October 22 remembers the victims of arguably the worst train crash in the country ever, citizens are expressing frustration that the government has yet to erect the commemorative stele at the site of the accident which it promised to the victims' families.