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Sunday, 6 November 2011

M5 crash death toll confirmed at seven

M5 crash death toll confirmed at seven

Police say worst fears not realised after forensic search of motorway crash site but victims not yet identified

The death toll from the pile-up on the M5 remains at seven with no further bodies found overnight, police claim.

Drivers and passengers died as vehicles caught fire in the accident near Bridgwater in Somerset on Friday night. Fifty-one people were injured.

There were fears the numbers would reach double figures and concerns it could end up being the worst motorway accident in English history.

But forensic experts worked through Saturday night examining the scene and Avon and Somerset police said no more bodies had been found.

Incident commander Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham said: "Overnight all the vehicles involved in this tragic incident have been removed the scene.

"Our worst fears have not been realised and the number of those that sadly lost their lives remains at seven."

He added that extensive work has been carried out to identify the victims and their families and that family liaison officers were being appointed to support them. Formal identification has not taken place, this will happen in the coming days, he said.

"We are now working with our partners to carry out the required work on the carriageway and open the road as soon as it is safe to do so. We thank everyone for their support and patience and this extremely difficult time."

The wreckages had been cleared by 9am on Sunday with the stretch of motorway remaining shut as the Highways Agency prepares to repair the damaged surface.

Eyewitnesses reported on the crash, which involving more than 30 vehicles, triggered a massive fireball that could be seen over a miles away.

One said: "People were trapped in their vehicles. I heard people screaming and children crying. There was also fuel which had spilled on to the road surface which was exploding, and cars were driving down the road just too fast and by the time they saw what was happing they were smashing into it, I was on the other side of the road try to wave cars to slow down, there was a smash on my side because of drivers not looking at the road ahead but at the pile up on the other side of the road."

Another eyewitness said it was horrid the where people trying to warn cars to slow down but they were all driving far too fast for the road conditions, wet roads fog and speed was the cause of it, not driving to road conditions which many drivers don’t do and speeding, thankfully on my side of the road most drivers like me were driving to the road conditions wet fogy in places, there were some nutcase driving like idiots but you always get that, and that’s was what  was most likely the cause of the smash on the other side of the road bad drivers and if the police took these types of the roads for good, this might never of happen or happen again I wouldn’t want to see anything like it again horrific

Ciara Neno, from Weston-Super-Mare, was one of the survivors. She said a "black fog" came down and a lorry in front of the car she was in "disappeared".

"We managed to brake and miss the lorry but it was too late, the carnage had already started. All we heard was thump, thump, thump. My husband dragged people from the cars, the smell was horrendous and there were a number of explosions. We walked away but other people weren't so lucky."

The tragedy is likely to renew the debate about motorway safety. It comes just weeks after the government announced plans to raise the speed limit to 80mph. Thirty-four vehicles were involved in the accident, which happened at 8.25pm on Friday.

"I could see the flames from quite a way back," said Simon Bruford, 38, from Williton in Somerset, who was driving south at the time of the crash. "I spent 18 years in the Somerset fire service and have seen a lot of nasty things, but that was horrific."

The vicar at St Mary Magdalene church in Taunton said the town was in shock. The Rev Rod Corke added: "My heart goes out to those who have suffered as a result of this tragedy."

In 1993, 12 children and their teacher died when their minibus smashed into the back of another vehicle on the M40 in Warwickshire. Two other motorway accidents, in 1984 and 1985, each claimed 13 lives. In 1991 on the M4 near Hungerford, Berkshire, 10 people died and 25 were injured in a 51-vehicle crash.

The stretch of the M5 where the latest tragedy occurred is not considered a traffic black spot. Police were investigating the possibility that thick, patchy fog had rapidly descended on the motorway, dramatically cutting visibility.

Weather forecasters said conditions had been misty in the area and any bonfires burning nearby could have made things worse.

"The particles bonfires release encourage fog droplets to form," said Gareth Harvey, a forecaster at MeteoGroup. "By 9pm there were weather stations in the county reporting visibility down to 100 metres. The roads would also have been wet due to an earlier deluge."

Police will also be talking to the organisers of a fireworks display at a rugby club. Some people have wondered if drivers may have been distracted by the display.

Bangham has pledged a comprehensive and thorough investigation. "Other factors come into play in the evening and we need to take a close look to see if they caused some kind of distraction," he said.

Ministers are to launch a consultation later this year with a view to introducing an 80mph limit on motorways in 2013 which if approved will only result in more major accidents happing, as many driver’s are already exceeding the 70mph limit with the average driver exceeding this by 20 to30 mph driving an average speed of between 90 to 100mph and some being recorded as much 50 to 60 mph over the speed limit, there are a hard core of drivers on English road that will break the speed limits regardless if it’s a 30, 40, 50 60, or 70mph they will speed and are a danger to all other road users and the cause of many accidents like the M25, M4 and now M5 massive piles ups, down to driver not observing the correct speeds for the correct road conditions and not concentrating on driving, using mobile phones, texting, over load music putting make up on, or just not looking at the road a head but rubber necking, and drivers even after seeing such horrific accidents still speed thinking it’s not going to happen to them?  Until when? they meet the next driver coming down the road speeding who also thinking it’s not going to happen to me? BANG).

Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton Deane, Jeremy Browne, said the accident should be not be used to shape the debate. "People talk about speed limits, 70mph or 80mph, but the crucial thing is to make a judgment about what is the safe speed limit for the conditions you find yourself in," Browne said.

"I was in Taunton and it was a pretty wet, dank and misty night. Visibility can be bad on that stretch of low-lying road but it is a pretty unremarkable stretch of motorway

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