On this day 10 years ago, Britain’s biggest-ever-pile-up took place as a result of thick fog on the Sheppey Crossing. Although more than 100 vehicles were involved, miraculously, no one was killed.
To mark the anniversary, KentOnline has spoken to those who were injured and involved in the crash and those who worked tirelessly to ensure no one lost their life.
On Thursday, September 5, 2013, 130 vehicles were involved in a huge smash on the bridge connecting Sheppey to Sittingbourne and mainland Kent.
Thick fog created extremely dangerous driving conditions with many motorists describing not being able to see brake lights on the cars in front of them.
The morning rush-hour accident saw 11 fire engines and almost 30 ambulances from across the county sent to the scene.
Graham Thwaites, a 69-year-old from Maple Street, Sheerness, was one of the more seriously injured – he feared he would lose his leg.
Now retired, he said: “I was a manager at Bexley College and was on my way to work via the bridge as normal.
“However, it became quite evident that it was abnormally thick the fog, so much so that within a short while you lost all sight of other cars and the things around you were just enveloped in a thick fog.
“You become quite frightened really because when you’re going along that road to the bridge there is no way of turning off.
“As I got to the top of the bridge the fog was the same, if not thicker, which was very unusual.
“On the way down on the other side of the bridge all you could see was just chaos.
“There were red lights where people were braking. You couldn't particularly hear a lot but you could see people just going into the back of each other and there were lots of lorries that had jackknifed and crashed.”
Graham’s first instinct was to brake and he was originally one of the cars that didn’t crash into another vehicle.
He continued: “I had to make a decision about what I was going to do. Did I stop the car and perhaps wait for another lorry to run into the back of me, which is what I could see happening in front of me? or did I get out of my vehicle?
“I decided to get out of the car and just go forward to what I thought was relative safety.
As Graham got out of his car, later marked by police as vehicle 59 in the pile-up, he started walking forward alongside the barrier.
However, moments later a van, marked as number 55, smashed between his car and the barrier.
Graham said: “It just ran right over the top of me and that's pretty much really all I remember because it wasn't until two hours later that I was actually got out from under the van.
“I can sort of remember coming to and I thought that I had lost my leg, I can remember saying ‘I've lost my leg, I've lost my leg’.
“That’s because my left foot was up, right alongside my ear, I thought my leg had come off.”
Graham remembers firefighters and SECAmb paramedics by his side.
He added: “They eventually got me out from underneath the van and I remember the ambulance guy saying ‘Look, if we don't straighten your leg, you're gonna lose it’.
“I was told that it was going to hurt and I remember them having to pull my leg straight.
“I was digging my fingernails into the tarmac, the pain was so bad.”
Graham was taken to Medway hospital, which had been put on standby for casualties from the crash, where he underwent an operation that saw metal rods placed into his leg.
He was in the hospital for a week, before being wheelchair-bound for two months. It was a year later before Graham was able to return to work.
Louise Farrugia, a 53-year-old from Minster, was on her way to her job at Medway hospital when she was caught up in the incident.
The health practitioner said: “It was a very foggy morning, and I thought to myself I best slow down and keep my distance, then we all suddenly came to a stop.
“I didn't know why, I hadn't heard anything or seen anything but I could only just about see the boot of the car in front of me.
“We sat there for about 15 minutes before people were walking up the middle of the two lanes, telling us to get out of the car.
“We walked down to the bridge, and I was gobsmacked by all the different crashes we passed.”
Louise and her vehicle were unharmed, however, she and many other motorists were left to congregate at the bottom of the bridge for more than six hours.
She recalled: “After the fog had lifted, the sun came out, and it was a boiling hot day.
“We had to wait for the St John Ambulance to turn up, who came with a camper van which luckily had a toilet on for the women because all the men were going in the bushes.
“Gazebos were also put up along the A249 for shade and Morrisons supermarket donated muffins, crisps and water so we were well cared for while we were there.
“It was at about 3.30pm when we were told we could go back to our cars if they were driveable and drive back down the other side of the bridge.
“I couldn't believe it but cars had crashed behind me as well, loads of them.”
At the time of the crash, 56-year-old Martin Stevens was the Kent Police inspector in charge of the serious collision investigation unit.
Now head of driver training with the force, he said: “It was very foggy, lots of people couldn't see.
“There were reports of 10 vehicles and then it became 20, then it became 30.
“By the time I got to the scene, the incident stretched the whole length of the bridge.
“The best way I can describe it is like a scene out of a Hollywood movie. Purely on scale it's the sort of thing you'd think that fits a Hollywood movie, it was just vast.
“Within the first two or three minutes of my arrival, I identified the lead person for the fire service, ambulance service, and other police officers who were doing particular roles that we needed to engage with.
“The accident happening on the bridge was quite good in some respects because it was quite contained.
“People couldn’t wander off and we had an element of control over them, we could account for people easily and we could brief the public.
“I have to say, a huge amount of credit needs to go to everyone that was involved.
“They were patient and understanding, even though they were shocked and many were hurt.
“Without a doubt, all of the services who turned up, they were fantastic.
“We all worked as one and we got through that, and we all worked very well. So it’s a credit to everyone involved.”
Sittingbourne station leader, Neil Ryder, recalls pulling out of the fire station on the day of the crash and being met by a blanket of fog.
He said: “They told us the incident involved 30 cars and we were thinking ‘that's quite a big incident’ and then as we got closer to the bridge we were told it had gone up to approximately 150 cars.
“It was quite daunting when we first arrived, it was like a Hollywood film set.
“There were people coming out of the fog and vehicles and shapes looming out of the fog.
“We just sort of stood back and went, wow, how are we going to deal with this?
“We had to break it down into small chunks and use those building blocks that you've been trained on to get through the incident.
“I'd never been to something ever that big and hopefully nothing ever that big again.
“Luckily for us, no one was killed, luckily for us, there were no hazardous substances, no major HGV vehicles involved, but there were a number of entrapments.
“We were there until late morning, midday and by then, the sun had come out and it was a beautiful day.
“When we first got back to the station one of the firefighters, and he still reminds me of it today, pointed at my fire tunic which was hanging on the fire engine's wing mirror, and just pools of sweat were dripping from it onto the floor because the weather had gotten that warm.”
Critical care paramedic, Dave Hawkins, was also at the scene.
The 44-year-old from Vigo Village, who is now head of operations for SECAmb Surrey, said: “We’d had an awful lot of 999 calls about the Sheppey Crossing.
“I think it would be almost impossible to imagine if you hadn't seen something like that before.
“Still, to this day, it's the biggest road traffic collision that I've ever attended in my career.
“There wasn't that much to see to start off with other than a lot of fog. The shape of the incident really didn't become apparent until you started to move along the bridge.
“I think it would be foolish to say that nobody ever looks at an incident and says ‘Oh, my gosh, what is this that we've got to deal with?’ And there was that moment because the scale of this was fairly enormous.
“I think that I felt calmer once we got the initial triage done.
“One of the key things that we did was we asked everyone that was walking wounded to move off the bridge.
“We did this because we couldn't keep track of who was where and what patients had or hadn't been triaged.
“By bringing all the patients that were the walking wounded to the foot of the bridge, which the fire service really greatly assisted us with, we were then able to work out who couldn't move anymore, so were likely to be more injured, and sort of work through them.”
Daniel Jackson a 38-year-old from Eastchurch, is currently an ambulance associate practitioner for SECAmb.
However, at the time he was a trainee emergency care support worker caught up in the accident.
He said: “I think I was probably two to three weeks with my training.
“I was on the way to training that morning. So I left for work as normal, not expecting anything.
“It was very, very thick fog that day. After travelling along over the bridge I’d sat my vehicle was, in the middle of the accident.
“I wasn't in a SECAmb vehicle it was my own car. I was okay luckily but the vehicles around me seemed to have had a crash with each other.
“As the incident unfolded, I was given the task that there were two people in a vehicle that were trapped and they couldn't get out.
“I was able to help assist one of the patients out of the vehicle and then I sat in the vehicle with a patient until other crews or the fire brigade came to assist to get the patient out.
“The patient had a dog that they were travelling with, but it was nowhere to be seen.
“Because the vehicle had been crashed from the rear. The dog had escaped. But at that point, the cage was so unrecognisable you couldn't tell If the dog was inside or if it had managed to get out.
“Later that day, we also found the dog safe and sound.
“I hope never to see anything like the Sheppey Crossing crash again.
“Even having the training now from my employer, I feel that we're more ready to deal with incidents like that, should it happen again. But I've never seen something like it again and don't want to.”