A woman has died after the minibus in which she was travelling to a weekend hen-party was involved in a crash with a lorry.
The driver of the heavy goods vehicle was arrested following the collision at around 11.30am on the westbound carriageway of the M62 near Pontefract, West Yorkshire, which left 21 people injured, seven of them seriously.
Police said the minibus, which is believed to have set off from South Elmsall near Wakefield, had been on its way to Liverpool when the crash happened. Emergency services launched a massive rescue operation.
Six air ambulances were sent to the scene and the injured were taken to hospitals across the region as major response plans were put into action. Witnesses described seeing dozens of police cars, ambulances and fire engines hurtling towards the scene of the collision.
Members of the public, including an off duty police officer gave first aid and helped the victims by the side of the motorway. Rescuers described the crash as one of the worst they had ever seen with the wrecked minibus on its side and the heavy goods vehicle blocking the carriageway.
The motorway – the main link across the Pennines between Yorkshire and Manchester - was closed in both directions for much of the day causing major disruption to traffic.
Motorists were stranded for several hours with many abandoning their vehicles. Chief Inspector Mark Bownass, head of West Yorkshire Police's roads policing unit, said: "We believe the minibus at this time was heading to a hen-party in Liverpool. Sadly within this accident there has been one fatality."
He appealed for any witnesses to contact police on 101, as well as any family members who may have any concerns.
Dr David Macklin from Yorkshire Ambulance Service praised the "excellent and professional response" of ambulance crews said: "The crews as you can imagine faced a very difficult scene with multiple seriously injured people. They are trained to respond to those sorts of incidents, they reacted in a manner in which I would expect them to."
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton said that firefighters said: "The crews that arrived described to me a very difficult scene, some of them saying it was the worst they'd seen in a number of years and some very experienced fire officers have been attending this scene.
"However, they very quickly got to work and brought in a range of equipment including cutting and lifting equipment to effect as quick a rescue as we could of those casualties who were still in the vehicle."
Chartered accountant Pritpal Singh, 28, from Leeds was travelling back to his office on the M62 westbound when the accident happened. "It was effectively gridlocked from 11.30am onwards. "By noon everyone had shut off their engines and started walking around on the road. By 2-2.30pm three quarters of the cars and lorries were empty,” he said.