By Rick Ritter

WASHINGTON (WJZ) — Rescue crews could not get to Metro passengers stuck in a tunnel filled with smoke for more than half an hour. In its first report on the incident, the NTSB finds Metro may not have acted fast enough to stop the electrical problem in the tunnel.

Rick Ritter explains what they found.

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Smoke filled L’Enfant Plaza for more than 40 minutes before power to the rail was even shut off. Some passengers were screaming; others tried to escape. What exactly caused that electrical malfunction is still under investigation.

A smoke filled tunnel turns to pandemonium. Passengers were sprawled out on trains, battling just to breathe.

Monday’s madness at a D.C. Metro station left one woman dead, 86 others injured and many searching for answers.

A preliminary report gives us a first look at the damaged third rail, showing investigators found severe electrical arcing to the rail and cables about 1,000 feet ahead of the train.

There’s also a timeline. At 3:06 p.m., investigators say an electrical breaker tripped. Just after 3:15 p.m., fans were turned on to try and stop smoke from coming into the tunnel.

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But it wasn’t until 3:50 p.m., 44 minutes later, when Metro officials shut off power to the rail. It took firefighters just as long to reach the train.

Only days after the incident, some passengers have already filed a lawsuit, alleging negligent maintenance, inspection and a negligent response by emergency officials.

The first passenger to file suit, 53-year-old Malbert Rich, never thought he’d survive, texting his family a final message.

“Telling them I loved you and to go on because we didn’t see any way out of it,” said Rich.

A horrifying experience that could lead dozens of other victims to the courts as well.

Rich’s attorney says she’s already retained one additional passenger and has received calls from several others. The NTSB expects the full investigation to take anywhere between six months to a year.

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The accident was the first fatality on the nation’s second busiest subway system since a 2009 crash killed nine people.

Rick Ritter