Train fire victim: I'd rather look like this than not be here at all
Another woman who was with her died in the incident, which took place between Southfield and Ottery stations. The Daily Voice caught up with Leigh at her home on Monday, where she expressed gratitude and happiness at simply being alive. The scars and scabs on her face are a stark reminder of the day she nearly lost her life.
Smiling brightly, Leigh says she’s already had two skin graft operations to repair her face. She vividly remembers what transpired on her way to work as a fuel scheduler for Engen in the Cape Town CBD that morning.
“The trains were delayed for 60 minutes and I got onto the train at Southfield station. As the train pulled up, weirdly the normally packed carriage was empty and myself and another woman got in. We even joked about deciding where to sit.”
She then noticed the fire in the corner of the carriage. “I alerted the lady and she went straight into panic. She shouted: ‘Jesus Christ, let us out of here’. As we went to the interlude door leading to other carriages we found it was locked. We opened the window and in not even 10 seconds and the carriage was baking hot. There was so much smoke I could not see the flames.
“I pulled my jacket over my face and reached for my phone to put on the flashlight, but I could not, my hands were sweating. I could no longer hear the lady screaming, I could not see in front of me and did not realise my face and hands were burning,” Leigh recalls.
The mother of one says she decided she would not die on the train that day. “I got upset. I said ‘no man, not like this, not today’. I pushed that window open, stuck my head out and jumped. The drop was over a metre and I lay on the grass for what seemed like an eternity.”
Leigh was found unconscious next to the tracks and spent over a month in hospital, where doctors battled to save her life. Her lung capacity at the time was just 24 percent, damaged due to toxic smoke inhalation, and she suffered serious burns to her throat, face and upper body. Leigh says her nine-year-old son was traumatised the first time he visited her in hospital.
“He ran out when he saw the bandages. The second time he just peeked. The third time he asked questions and told me I was being hailed a hero at his school.” She says she’s made peace with the fact that her face has changed.
“I’d rather be looking like this than not being here at all. This is who I am. I’ve accepted it. I’ve received so much support and validation from family, friends, random people in stores, one woman even jumped out of her car in traffic. I am truly grateful.”
Prasa spokesperson Zino Mihi says they’ve been in contact with Leigh and offered assistance. “The incident is still being investigated by Metrorail, as well as police, and we will co-operate in any way to ensure that the guilty is brought to book.”