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Passenger’s jump from burning MBTA train captivates people online: ‘Who is that brave woman?’

After her leap, the unidentified passenger refused to get on a nearby boat and swam to shore.

MBTA Orange Line train catches on fire approaching station in Somerville
Chaos ensued Thursday morning when an Orange Line train caught fire approaching a station in Somerville, forcing terrified passengers to jump out windows. (Videos courtesy of: Sian Bernard, Jennifer Thomsön-Sulliván)

One woman’s daring leap into the Mystic River from a burning train this week has become symbolic of yet another nightmarish scene involving the MBTA.

But her resilience in the face of what Governor Charlie Baker called a “colossal failure” has resonated with some T riders who watched online as the chaos unfolded.

“Every time I’ve ever rode on the Orange Line, I have mentally prepared for the ‘train’s on fire, now I must jump off the bridge’ moment,” tweeted Rob Glover, a political science professor at the University of Maine.

On Thursday morning, as smoke and flames engulfed part of an Orange Line train approaching Somerville’s Assembly Station, commuters were sent into a collective panic.


Amid the chaos of riders kicking through windows and jumping out of train cars — all the while struggling to comprehend what was happening — an unidentified woman made the decision to jump from the bridge where the train had stopped, down into the water below.

A fellow passenger recalled hearing another person shout at the woman not to make the leap. But when she looked down, she could see the woman already paddling to shore — a move, she said, “made people panic even more.”

When she was offered assistance from a municipal marine boat that “happened to be in the river for training,” the woman accepted a life jacket but denied additional help, Somerville Fire Chief Charles Breen told the Globe.

Instead, she swam by herself to safety, and walked away from the latest in a string of incidents involving the beleaguered transit authority.

According to WBZ-TV, the woman did not require medical attention.

“I was very scared for all of us. We had no idea what was happening. It was like pandemonium,” the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told the news station. “I think I’m safer in the water right now than walking down the tracks.”


But her anonymity hasn’t stopped her from receiving widespread attention, with some transit riders sympathizing with her unflinching determination to escape.

“Who is that brave woman, who jumps, refuses assistance, and [swims] in this river?” tweeted Reza Rawassizadeh, a professor at Boston University.

Grace Holley, a community planner, said when she rides the Orange Line, she often mentally prepares for a number of potential circumstances. But having to leap into the water is a new one.

“Usually on the Orange Line I do a quick mental prep for following scenarios: a shooting, witnessing something violent/needing to defend someone, train falling off track on curvy bridge part by Charlestown,” she tweeted.

“Guess I’ll add jumping outta burning train and into river to list,” Holley said.

Meanwhile, Phil McKenna, a reporter for Inside Climate, tweeted that if he had “just jumped out of a burning subway car, I’d be inclined to take my own chances as well,” by refusing to get on a boat.

Although questions remain about why she jumped and then declined help, people hypothesized that the cost of receiving medical care or being late for work may have factored into her decision.

“She might be the same lady from Boston who slipped between a train and the track a few years ago and begged everyone not to call an ambulance despite being seriously injured,” tweeted one person. “Tough as hell but a sad reflection on the cost and state of healthcare.”


Others went as far as calling the woman their “new hero,” and joked how it was quintessential Boston.

But many viewed the scenario as a cautionary tale, one of several terrifying ordeals that seem to have become common on public transportation.

From deteriorating infrastructure to a passenger death and injuries due to mechanical and safety failures, the leap heard-round-the-Internet felt like the pinnacle in a string of incidents that have led to oversight hearings and a federal investigation.

As author Hillary Monahan put it: “Sigh.”

“If you’re from here you know how problematic and dangerous MBTA stuff has been recently,” she tweeted. “That a passenger had to kick out a window and jump into a river ...”

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Shannon Larson can be reached at Follow her @shannonlarson98.