Published: 08:00, 05 September 2013
| Updated: 08:04, 05 September 2013
Victims injured in the Sheppey crossing crash - which saw 30 people hospitalised - could be released within days.
Eight people were seriously hurt in the massive pile-up of around 130 vehicles in thick fog yesterday.
Sixty other people also suffered minor injuries in the horrific crash, with 35 taken to hospitals across the county.
As many as 120 others are believed to be among the walking wounded as harrowing witness accounts emerged of the "carnage" after two separate rush-hour crashes.
Now, it has been revealed those seriously injured and taken to Medway Maritime Hospital could be released within days.
The five patients - who suffered broken bones to their legs and ankles - are said to be doing well and are due to be discharged in the next few days.
Director of nursing Steve Hams said the reason they had suffered these injuries was because they had got out of their vehicles to help others.
Some hospital staff even cancelled annual leave to come in and help.
Now, after the crossing was reopened ahead of a major police investigation, Ch Insp Andy Reeves, who coordinated the recovery operation from the scene, has thanked motorists and members of the public for their patience.
He said on Thursday: "Today was a long and intense day for everybody.
"However, I was thoroughly impressed by the patience and compassion displayed both by those involved in the collision and members of the local community, many of whom called to ask if they could help or brought bottles of water and food to the scene for the victims and emergency services staff.
"I would like to thank everybody for their support.
"Officers will continue to investigate the collision in the days ahead to try to establish the cause."
All vehicles involved in the collision are being held by Kent Police in a secure location.
Kent Police had earlier urged motorists to avoid the area as the A249 Sheppey Crossing was closed. Both carriageways were reopened by 5.30pm.
A senior Kent Police officer said the accident was the county's worst in 20 years - and said it was "remarkable" no one was killed or left fighting for their life.
Witnesses claimed speeding drivers had been hurtling through dangerous fog - many of them without any lights on despite the greatly reduced visibility.
One driver said some motorists were "driving like idiots" on the dual carriageway despite the "appalling" conditions in thick fog.
Firefighters cut five people free from their vehicles after a series of accidents in fog at the top of the crossing and the foot of the approach on the A249 at about 7.15am.
Witnesses said they heard screeching brakes then thuds around them almost continuously for 10 minutes as more and more vehicles added to the pile-up.
The mangled wreckage of cars, vans, lorries and several car transporters was left strewn across the carriageway as the walking wounded were led away from the scene.
Kent Police said more than 100 vehicles were damaged - and others were caught up in the chaos.
The force urged families worried for relatives after the collision or witnesses to phone 01622 653580.
A major emergency operation was launched, with dozens of fire engines, ambulances and police cars on the scene.
South East Coast Ambulance Service said a total of 35 patients - eight with potentially serious injuries - have been taken to hospital.
One of the patients with serious injuries will undergo emergency surgery this evening, Medway Maritime Hospital said.
Around 200 people were being assessed at the scene, where about 30 medical vehicles - including 19 ambulances - and a hazardous area response team were set up.
As the badly injured were still being ferried to hospital, it emerged personal injury law firms have already been approaching victims about potential claims.
This afternoon it emerged lives were probably saved because an unidentified quick-thinking lorry driver used his truck to block the entrance to the bridge - and stop more cars piling into the crash.
Another driver, Chris Buckingham, told Sky News: "He was going the other way and what he managed to do, which has probably saved lives, is he's gone down to the end of the carriageway, gone across the roundabout and actually blocked off the road so no more cars could actually enter the dual carriageway before the emergency services got there.
"Whoever that guy is I'd like to shake his hand because he's probably saved lives today."
Earlier, witness Martin Stammers, 45, from Minster, said: "It's horrific. I've never seen anything like it in my life.
"All you could hear was cars crashing. We got out of our car and it was eerily quiet with visibility down to just 20 yards.
"Then you would hear the screeching of brakes and then a thud. It was all you could hear for about 10 minutes - crash after crash after crash."
He added: "The whole top of the bridge is full of mangled cars and lorries. There are cars with their roofs ripped off - one is five feet in the air. There were a lot of people trapped.
"We managed to stop safely in time before the accident, but if we'd have been 10 seconds earlier we'd have been involved."
Mr Stammers said he and his son James then ran to the other side of the carriageway and signalled to people to slow down.
He said: "Some of them were going at 60mph or 70mph. Even if you were going at 40mph you wouldn't be able to see 20 yards in front of you."
Driver Andrew Birchmore, from Minster, was among the injured - and claimed many drivers on the crossing did not have their fog lights on.
The 24-year-old, who was on his way to work at John Wallis Academy in Ashford, said: "Visibility was about 30 metres - I couldn't see.
"Cars were coming past and no one had their fog lights on. I would say I was going about 50mph and all of a sudden I could see the cars in front of me and swerved and hit the side instead.
"I knew I wouldn't stop in time so I just hit my brakes as hard as I could and braced for impact.
"A lorry went into the back of me. It was all so fast. I have been quite lucky. I have got some neck and back pain.
"The paramedics checked me over but I'm OK. I climbed out the back window. It was very smokey - it was horrible, nasty looking.
"People were moaning - there was a pregnant lady. I'm not sure what happened but she's OK now. The aftermath was a real mess - but everyone pulled together."
Motorist Dave Green, of Invicta Road, Sheerness, saw a motorcyclist thrown into the air and land in front of his car.
The 26-year-old, who was on his way to work at DCB in Medway, said: "Visibility was poor. I was just coming up the peak of the hill there was traffic in front of me.
"The car in front of me just started skating and snaking about and I've gone into the central reservation to try to avoid the car in front.
"The car behind me stopped beside me and a motorbike hit the back of that car.
"The motorbike has flipped up and the man has slid down the bonnet of the car next to mine and landed in front of my car.
"I think he suffered broken ribs - I just phoned the ambulance and asked what I should do?
"I got out the window of the car and helped him up and sat him down."
Mr Green added: "He was going in and out of consciousness so I had to lay him down but apart from that he seemed OK.
"Nothing is wrong with me, I just feel guilty - there are people worse off than me.
"I was just walking around seeing if there were people that needed help. There were people trapped in cars and stuff."
Police confirmed there were two collisions, one on the bridge and another just before on the Sheppey side.
Motorists were urged to avoid the area, with the crossing shut in both directions between the Key Street roundabout and the Bobbing roundabout.
A Kent Police spokesman said at mid-morning: "Officers are urging motorists to avoid the area, but if a journey to the island is essential, the old Kingsferry Bridge remains open but expect long delays.
"The road remains closed at Cowstead Corner on the Island and motorists are being directed onto the Kingsferry Bridge, while the road is closed at the Iwade turn-off and vehicles directed through the village onto the old A249."
Ch Insp Any Reeves, from Kent Police, said: "Given the number of vehicles involved and the damage to some of the vehicles, we are extremely fortunate that we have not had a loss of life today.
"It's too early to determine what caused the accident, but we do know there was very poor visibility at the time.
"I understand there was thick fog and visibility was down to around 25m, so clearly the weather conditions will be one of the factors in the investigation.
"In terms of signficance of the incident - in terms of the number of vehicles and the amount of damage - this is without question the most significant incident I have been to in over 20 years of policing."
He urged drivers to avoid the area, saying it would be up to five hours before it would be cleared.
Mr Reeves said some people had raised concerns that vehicles were travelling too fast and didn't have lights on.
People involved in the accident, on the London-bound carriageway heading away from the Isle of Sheppey, were being led down the Sittingbourne side of the bridge.
Traffic backed up as far as Bobbing on the Sittingbourne side while on the island cars are queuing on the Lower Road.
Two of the eight injured people have been taken to King's College Hospital in Denmark Hill.
The rest are being treated at hospitals across Kent, including Sittingbourne, Medway, Ashford and Maidstone.
Medway Maritime Hospital said it was treating four people with serious injuries and a further nine with minor injuries.
All elective and day case surgery has been cancelled today.
A Medway Maritime Hospital spokesman said it was put on alert as the receiving hospital for the major incident by 9am.
She added: "At 9:45am the trust received the first casualty from the accident who is now being treated for multiple serious injuries.
"A further three casualties have also since arrived at the hospital and are being treated for minor injuries.
"The trust continues to be on standby to receive further casualties if necessary.
"All routine planned surgery has been cancelled to deal with the incident. The emergency department remains open to deal with all regular emergency activity."
Earlier, a man who was travelling home from a night shift at about 7.15am described the scene as "carnage".
The driver, who did not want to be named, said: "As I got to the bridge I could see people running down the central reservation on the other side waving at us to slow down.
"There was debris on our side of the road from the accident, then we saw the first part of the crash - there was cars, lorries, vans, ploughed into each other like a concertina.
"I also motorbikes underneath cars - it was carnage. When I got to the brow of the hill, we thought that was the end of it, but we came across another pile-up that went on for another stretch."
He added: "We saw a couple of people lying on the ground being tended to by members of the public because emergency services hadn't arrived at that stage.
"The fog was terrible - you couldn't see two cars in front of you.
"When we passed the accident, people were still driving too fast towards it because they couldn't see it.
"I've never anything like this before in my life."
The Highways Agency said its contractors are working hard with the emergency services to reopen the road as soon as it is safe.
A diversion route is in place via the Kings Ferry bridge. Drivers are advised to check conditions before they set out and plan their journeys to avoid the area if possible.
Dom McLeman, from the Highways Agency, said: “Although delays on the diversion route have decreased, we would expect these to increase during the evening’s peak period."
Guy Nicholson, Labour's general election candidate in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, said: ''My thoughts are with all who have been caught up in the terrible accident on the Sheppey Crossing and I wish them a speedy recovery.
"All of our thanks go out to our emergency services for their swift response to this awful accident. There will be time to ensure this doesn't happen again, but meanwhile our priority must be to support all those caught up in the accident.''
The Salvation Army's emergency response unit - along with St John's Ambulance - has been providing support to rescue crews and victims of the pile-up since 10am.
Due to the soaring temperatures, a shelter was erected and cold drinks were served by the team to victims and rescuers.
The British Red Cross staff and volunteers also helped at a rest centre and sent pop-up tents to provide shelter from the sun.
Jane Roberts, operations director for the Red Cross in Kent and Sussex, said: “A major issue today has been the weather. With so many people stranded for so long in the heat, unable to return to their vehicles, it was important that we were able to provide shelter and water, in the same way we do around the world.”
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