Motorists and crew escape as jet hits two cars on M27: Driver tells how aircraft burst into flames on carriageway after overshooting runway. Steve Boggan reports

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The Independent Online
A MOTORIST whose car was hit by a passenger jet on the M27 spoke yesterday of the terrifying moment when he scrambled free from his upturned vehicle to see the aircraft burst into flames.

Steven Huthwaite, who escaped with a bruised leg, said: 'I went into shock immediately because I thought there were people burning inside. It was a horrible sight. I knew I was lucky to be alive but I couldn't take in what my eyes were seeing.'

The Cessna Citation 500 twin-engined jet ploughed off the runway at Southampton Eastleigh Airport, Hampshire, and crashed on to the motorway yesterday morning.

The aircraft, owned by Oxford-based City Air, was trying to land in one of the violent thunderstorms that brought flooding and damage to much of the south and west of England yesterday. It had flown from Kidlington in Oxfordshire to collect up to nine passengers.

According to Hampshire police, the aircraft left the runway and crashed through a wire fence, down a 10 metre embankment 150 metres from the end of the strip before smashing into two cars and coming to rest facing the airport on the eastbound carriageway.

It burst into flames within seconds, but the two people on board, Albert Thompson of Ramsden, Oxfordshire, and Cameron Irani of Coxwell, Oxfordshire, the pilot and co-pilot, escaped unhurt.

Mr Huthwaite, 40, and the passenger in his Ford Sierra, David Antell 31, both Ford workers from Gosport, Hampshire, were hit by the jet on their way home from completing a night-shift at 6.35am. Mr Antell suffered a compound fracture of the thumb.

The driver of the second car, a Renault 18, was Roy Davis from Eastleigh, Hampshire. He suffered a fractured pelvis and was detained at Southampton General Hospital.

Mr Huthwaite said: 'The rain was coming down in buckets. We were driving along when, suddenly, there was an almighty bang and we were flipped on to the roof.

'We were sliding along for what felt like an eternity. I shouted to ask Dave if he was OK and he shouted to see if I was all right, but my safety belt was stuck. Finally we stopped and we could smell fumes - it must have been the aviation fuel - and I managed to get my seat belt off and scramble out. Just as we got clear, the jet went 'whoosh' and burst into flames.' Neither the pilots nor City Air would comment on the cause of the crash yesterday, but a spokesman for Hampshire fire brigade said 'a combination of factors' was involved.

Paul Barlow, managing director of the airport, said the weather conditions were bad but well within operating limits.

Meanwhile, a total of 4,000 homes had their electricity supplies cut off and the Devon fire brigade answered calls to more than 40 lightning strikes. The Met Office took the unusual step of issuing a severe weather warning, as the weather front moved across the south and west of England.

Flash floods cut off roads from Cornwall to Oxfordshire and caused 30 crashes in Southampton. Torquay, Exeter, Plymouth and Barnstaple all suffered power cuts.

(Photograph omitted)