Police fear more victims as seven confirmed dead in massive fireball

Flames force back motorists trying to help victims.

Police have warned that the death toll from one of Britain's biggest road traffic accidents is likely to rise after a devastating motorway crash claimed at least seven lives and injured more than 50.

Officers examining the wreckage of mangled and burnt-out cars on the M5 in Somerset said they expected to find still more bodies trapped in vehicles by a massive fireball which engulfed them moments after the collision at around 8.30pm on Friday. The heat was so intense that firefighters were unable to get close enough to rescue many of them. Eyewitness described seeing repeated explosions and many casualties lying on the roadside.

Among those feared killed were Pamela and Anthony Adams from Newport, Gwent, who were returning home after visiting their daughter Tonia White in Taunton. Yesterday Mrs White said the family was frantic for news about the pair. "They would have hit that stretch of the motorway about the time of the accident," she said. "I've been trying to ring them all night. We've been in touch with other family members but nobody's been able to contact them at all today." She said her 73-year-old father and mother, 70, were retired. "The police can't tell me anything. They don't know. As time is going on I'm feeling less and less positive. I've phoned the hospitals but they haven't been admitted. At least they were together."

Fog, wet conditions and possible driver "distraction" prompted by a nearby fireworks display were all being investigated as possible causes, police said yesterday. They appealed for witnesses and video footage as they tried to piece together the sequence of events that triggered one of the UK's worst road crashes in nearly two decades.

Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham from Somerset & Avon Police said vehicles were "burnt and unrecognisable". "Sadly I can now confirm seven people have died as a result of this incident," he said. "We fear that number will rise. It's a real mash of many, many vehicles. We believe there are still casualties trapped."

He praised fellow motorists who risked their lives to try to help those trapped. "The intensity of the fire – it was a fireball on the carriageway – made it incredibly difficult for people to approach," he said. "People did their very best." A police hotline for people worried about missing loved ones has been inundated with hundreds of calls.

He confirmed police were investigating whether motorists may have been distracted by any nearby events. About 1,000 people had gathered that evening for a fireworks display at Taunton Rugby Club, next to the motorway.

Oli Massingham, a spokesman for the rugby club, declined to speculate about the causes of the crash. "The only thing I will say is that the firework display started at 8pm and finished at 8.15pm," he said.

Seventeen of the most seriously injured were taken to nearby Musgrove Park Hospital. Those less seriously injured were taken to Yeovil. Colin Close, Musgrove's medical director, admitted they had dealt with "nothing of this magnitude ever before". One surgeon was flown in by helicopter from Exeter to help to treat the casualties.

Eye witnesses recounted seeing "enormous flames" engulf the motorway's northbound carriageway.

One, Ciara Neno, from Weston-super-Mare, said: "It was quite frankly the scariest night of my life and we are extremely lucky to be alive tonight. A black fog came down very, very fast and the Iceland truck in front of us disappeared. We managed to brake and not hit the truck, but the carnage had started and all we heard was 'thump, thump, thump' and we were waiting to be hit and end up under the lorry. I got on to the emergency services and my husband started dragging people from smoking cars. The noise and the smell were horrendous and there was several explosions as the fires took hold."

Music teacher Tom Hamill told how he rescued a baby from the wreckage of one car. Mr Hamill, 25, from Wells, Somerset, had been travelling with his father and girlfriend when they pulled their car into the central reservation after stopping in thick fog just behind the crash.

"You could hear cars either side of you pounding about 60mph into jackknifed lorries and other vehicles," he said. "We clambered out of the car, and a lady who had some children screamed 'take my baby'. So we carried the baby over the central reservation where a bit of bumper hit by a car zoomed over my head. My girlfriend was screaming 'watch out'."

They handed the baby back to the mother and went back to rescue his father, who was trapped in the car with a broken leg, and another man with a shattered ankle. "While that was happening, a lorry caught fire," Mr Hamill said. "The flames suddenly licked up and the whole scene where we were was suddenly on fire."

Police urged drivers to avoid the area if at all possible.

Traffic deaths: Britain's worst road crashes

20 October 2008 Family of six dies in crash on the M6.

7 May 2007 Six people die on the M25 when a rescue truck carrying a minibus collides with a lorry.

10 July 2003 Seven people die when a minibus collides with a car on the M56.

17 November 1993 Crash on the M40 leaves 12 children dead.

13 March 1991 Ten people die in a 51-car pile-up on the M4.

28 October 1987 Lorry collides with stationary traffic on the M61, killing 12 people.

21 October 1985 Coach collides with stationary traffic on the M6, killing 13 people.

27 May 1975 Coach carrying pensioners comes off bridge in North Yorkshire, killing 32 people, in Britain's worst ever road accident.

Worldwide

11 July 1978 In Spain, a tanker containing liquefied propylene crashes into a campsite and explodes. The resulting fireball kills at least 215 people and injures 200 more.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Davidson performs his comedy show at Edinburgh Festival 2014
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Finance Manager - Central London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Business Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: IT Buyer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company are currently re...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor