One minute they were husbands and wives, students and professionals, lost in cellphone chatter, the glow of iPads, the rhythm of a passenger train charging through Philadelphia on a spring night at more than 100 m.p.h.

The next moment they were being hurled into overhead luggage racks, slammed into windows, even stripped of their shoes as Amtrak Train 188 flew off its tracks and came to a screaming, horrific, halt.

It was, according to survivors of the deadliest Northeast Corridor rail crash in a generation, a scene of such sudden destruction they could hardly believe they had witnessed it - let alone walked away.

All seven cars being tugged by a New York-bound locomotive flipped onto their sides or snapped to a severe tilt near I-95 as the train, roaring at twice the posted speed, blew a curve at Frankford Junction at 9:21 p.m. Tuesday.

The 238 passengers had virtually no warning.

As one man who managed to climb out of Car No. 7 put it: "You saw and heard noise still creaking. You had people everywhere. You look over at the train and you can't believe that the car three up from us is perpendicular to the track."

Those words from Jeremy Wladis, 51, a businessman, conveyed the awe that lingered hours after the crash. Wladis wept Wednesday when he learned that a seventh person had been declared dead.

"You can't see what happened ahead, but you know it can't be good, and you're scared shitless," he said, memories of the wreck still haunting. "I can't believe everybody in our car walked. I can't believe it."

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was seated on a bench in the cafe car, unbuckled, in the middle of the train.

He had just finished a day trip to Washington and was headed home to Bristol. He was poking away on his iPad, earbuds on.

About the same time, in the rear car, Temple University social work professor Duy Nguyen, 39, was chatting with his wife by phone.

Like Murphy, 41, Nguyen sat on the left side. His computer was open on his lap. Across the aisle on the right was Wladis. His company owns Manhattan's AG Kitchen and several other East Coast restaurants, and he was heading home from a business trip to Silver Spring, Md.

As the train approached a left bend in the track, each of the three men detected something odd.

"A violent vibration," Murphy called it.

"Three bumps," Wladis said.

Nguyen described it as a jolt.

Three seconds later, they found themselves in the midst of disaster.

Wladis could smell rubber and hear the crunch of metal. Nguyen heard the same terrifying sound.

"We felt like we were going to tip over," Wladis said. "It was too late to do anything but kind of brace yourself as well as you can."

For a moment, the train pulled to the left. Then, most violently, it lurched the other way, peeling off the tracks and flinging passengers to the right.

Murphy said he had felt that kind of fear only once before, when serving in Iraq.

"I'm 6-foot-1, 200 pounds," he said. "I just was thrown headfirst into the other side of the car."

Murphy landed on his head. He wasn't even sure he could move his arms and legs after coming to a stop, limp and enveloped by the screams of wounded passengers.

The second car felt as though it were taking off, airborne like a jetliner, said Jeffrey Kutler, 62, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Kutler thought: "I hope I survive this."

In the last car, the danger was less acute, though the fear was equally intense.

Nguyen, who had been heading home to Teaneck, N.J., was launched from his seat.

"I went clear across the other seat, the aisle, and into the other side," he said. As he came to a rest, the lights cut out.

Wladis was shoved from his seat "flat against the window."

Others in their car were tossed about with greater force.

"Purses are flying," Wladis said. "Glasses are flying. Laptops. Phones. Shoes. Two women were thrust up over our heads, over my head, into the luggage rack on the right side."

Someone said "Oh, my God!"

Another asked, "Anybody hurt?"

In the darkened cafe car, Murphy could sense "debris all over - and bodies."

"I just looked at my arms and legs - made sure they were still there, feel them," said the former lawmaker, whose photographs on Twitter were among the first images to capture the immediate aftermath inside the mangled cars.

Murphy said he punched open an emergency exit in the roof and gave a handful of passengers a boost to safety by allowing them to cup their feet into his clasped hands.

All around him, people were bleeding. He crawled atop the counter, where coffee and snacks had been served, and clambered to a corner where some of the loudest screams seemed to be originating. Meanwhile, the Amtrak attendant normally working the counter bundled ice packs for the wounded.

"There were people, blood all over them, all over their faces, coming out their ears, out their nose," Murphy said. "One guy was just losing it. He was, 'We're gonna die!' Kind of talking gibberish. I grabbed him. Told another guy, let's just sit him down. . . . We just put pressure to his wounds."

Another man could not feel his arms or legs, Murphy said.

Emergency responders were quickly on the scene. They dropped through open windows, doing what they could to enter a car resting on its side.

In the last car, Nguyen was in bad shape. Blood gushed from his head and down his face. His back hurt. It was difficult to walk.

He had no idea what had happened to his cellphone, his bag or his laptop - nor did he care. He left them behind. He was treated at Temple University Hospital for a bruised back and abdomen.

Murphy, 41, a former Army paratrooper who now works as an attorney at a big-city firm, made it home to his wife and children.

"I thought I was going to be a goner," he said.

As Wladis rode in an Uber back to his family near the Columbia University campus, one thought repeatedly played in his mind.

"Oh, my God. We're so lucky to be alive."

215-854-2431 @Panaritism

Inquirer staff writer Alfred Lubrano contributed to this article.