Britain's worst traffic accident

2011-11-06 09:25

Taunton - At least seven people died in one of Britain's worst ever motorway pile-ups, police said on Saturday, as investigators probed the cause of the crash which triggered a huge fireball.

Footage taken at the scene showed motorists risking their own lives amid the flames to prise open vehicle doors and rescue people trapped inside.

The 34-vehicle crash in foggy and wet conditions on the M5 motorway near Taunton in southwest England sparked explosions and an inferno, reducing vehicles to cinders and leaving twisted, fire-blackened metal scattered across the carriageway.

Emergency services said 51 people had been injured and warned the death toll was likely to rise.

Witnesses described hellish scenes, with multiple explosions and towering flames sending a pall of acrid smoke over the motorway.

Avoided the carnage

"We could hear people screaming in their cars. It was utter carnage," said motorist Thomas Hamell, 25, who narrowly avoided the carnage as he came to an abrupt halt next to a jack-knifed lorry at the edge of the crash site.

"We sat there and heard the thud of cars, one after another, hitting each other and thought we would be next."

As a search of the burnt-out vehicles continued, a large section of the route through England's southwest was set to remain closed in both directions until Sunday, causing long delays for motorists.

Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary told reporters: "Sadly I can now confirm that we believe we've had at least seven people die as a result of this incident.

"I am also able to confirm that we've got 51 casualties. Many of those have gone to hospital."


He said 34 vehicles were involved in the accident on Friday evening, "many of which are burnt - and burnt literally to the ground."

While casualties have been taken to two nearby hospitals and some treated at the scene, Bangham said others might still be trapped.

Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, said it was Britain's worst traffic accident in two decades, the last comparable incident being a 51-car crash on the M4 motorway in March 1991 in which 10 people died.

Hospitals said the injuries ranged from simple limb fractures to more complex chest and abdominal trauma.

Bangham said detectives would be examining the possible factors involved, including the darkness, fog and groundwater, plus a fireworks display close to the three-lane road.

"All we could hear was the sound of a horn and then the flames got so high so quickly and the noise was horrific," said Bev Davis, who saw the pile-up from her home close to the motorway.

"There must have been 200m worth of fire - plumes of smoke were going up and everything was red."

Motorist Paul O'Connor told Sky News television: "It was quite horrific and I have never seen anything like that - I could see people lying on the side of the road."

But tales of bravery also emerged amid the horror. Hamell said that he had managed to carry a baby to safety as chaos raged around him.

The teacher described how he and his two travelling companions managed to get safely out of their car at the edge of the accident and help a mother and her young baby, whose car was severely damaged in the carnage.

"We were incredibly lucky. The woman who gave her child, her car was wiped out," he said.

  • Ula - 2011-11-06 10:25

    "At least seven people died in one of Britain's worst ever motorway pile-ups, police said on Saturday, as investigators probed the cause of the crash which triggered a huge fireball." As tragic as this accident is, the British must be doing something right considering the daily carnage we face on our roads in SA. Still a terrible accident though :(

      Michelle - 2011-11-06 11:38

      I agree Ula. Here in Dubai we have maybe 50 major accidents a year. So what is not working in SA???? Wish somebody would find a solution soon and save lives.

      UlaGillion - 2011-11-06 12:08

      @Michelle: I think it's complicated, but I do believe a general lack of respect for other road users lie at the heart of the problem. That perhaps combined with lack of proper enforcement of traffic rules.

      Ettienne - 2011-11-06 12:47

      Any loss of life is tragic. But that being said, in Europe the laws are ENFORCED properly, not like in SA. Here a blind eye gets turned, corruption, friends and we can carry on. Until such time that we have the authorities doing their work properly, we will continue having this problem. At the same time, the attitude of drivers need to change.

      goldwright - 2011-11-06 12:59

      Agreed, I have just come back after a month in the England from visiting family & just before I left, in KZN, where I live, a STUPID taxi driver, drove into the lane with the oncoming traffic, in peak traffic time - obviously with the STUPID mentality that because that lane was leading out the city, it was quieter & he could get away with it, instead he went straight into a big truck and killed 15 people, (the driver lived) Far from that incident being the "worst" in this country, although it was apparently the worst in the city, such accidents are common in South Africa. 99.9% of the time, despite the often narrow roads, less space and more cars on the road in England, they are considerate and courteous drivers/riders, drivers actually STOP at pedestrain crossing & you feel a hang of a lot safer on their roads. Unless something changes on our roads re people's attitudes & stricter law enforcement, the carnage will continue on SA roads.

  • Joseph - 2011-11-06 12:15

    We pass on our sincere sympathy to the British for the lost of their loved ones.In South Africa this is a tea party.We are being killed in numbers because of drunkards and murderers who use the roads to bait innocent citizens.Most of these murderers are not competent to be our roads.The Government is fighting a loosing battle to make our roads safe.Taxi drivers in the country have no regard for Road Safety and many of their victims are dragged for metres under their Vehicles.Now they are taking to the air,new air raids.

  • Trevor - 2011-11-06 14:10

    This is Africa, get over it, WE ARE NOT EUROPE and it will NEVER CHANGE so either stay off the roads or, bite the bullet. I hate it but I accept that while government has it's fingers in the pot, speed camera's, involvement in taxi industry...etc...death on our roads will remain, see it as a form of population control...but just wait for the new "Taxi Airline" to take off...then people will die by the hundreds...RAF cover that as well??? All corrupt and rotten to the core.

      Peter - 2011-11-06 17:03

      So true, but we still keep voting them in power,,, please god tell us the answer, to these monsters running this country.

  • Winsome - 2011-11-06 17:06

    7 People died and 51 injured. And special prayer services are being held and a special hot line is set up for people who suspect their friends and families may be involved. And here in SA sometimes 20something die in one taxi accident and it has become an everyday occurrence. Only when we see headlines from another country with a "small" accident do we realize just how bad it is in SA. We have become immune.

  • Martha - 2011-11-07 17:25

    Horrible accident.As far as I know heavy vehicles on the UK's main roads have their own separate lanes.Why was the jackknifed truck involved in the accident? We sympathise with all those people involved in that accident and pray for the families who lost their loved ones.

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