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Spanish train driver was on the phone at time of crash

An overhead view of the wreckage of a train crash is seen near Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, in this still image from video, J
An overhead view of the wreckage of a train crash is seen near Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, in this still image from video, J

MADRID (Reuters) - The driver of the train that derailed in northwestern Spain last week, killing 79 people, was talking on the phone with state train operator Renfe at the time of the accident, a court said on Tuesday after analyzing the train's data recording devices.

The initial reading of the so-called black boxes said driver Francisco Garzon received a call from Renfe minutes before the accident to discuss the path to Ferrol, the final destination for the high-speed train that departed from Madrid on Wednesday with 218 passengers aboard.

The court investigating the case said that by the conversation and background noise picked up on the black boxes, the driver appeared to be consulting a map or some kind of paper document while on the phone with Renfe staff.

The train was travelling at 192 km (120 miles) per hour in the minutes before it derailed in a curve where speed is limited at 80 km per hour, according to the two black boxes, which are actually orange in color and located at the front and the back of the train.

The eight-carriage train slowed to 153 km per hour at the time of the crash after a brake was activated seconds before.

Garzon, 52, admitted in a closed-door hearing on to taking the curve too fast, blaming it a momentary lapse, according to media reports.

He has been charged with negligent homicide by Investigating Magistrate Luis Alaez, who is also probing whether the train, the tracks or the security system that slow down the trains may also have been at fault.

Sixty-six people remained in hospital from the crash on Tuesday, with 15 in critical condition.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Julien Toyer and Sonya Hepinstall)

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