Detectives were working yesterday to formally identify the seven bodies recovered from one of Britain’s worst-ever motorway pile-ups in which a huge fireball burned vehicles to the ground.
Police said no more bodies were found on Saturday night as they forensically removed all 34 vehicles involved from the M5 motorway near Taunton in southwest England.
The huge crash happened at 8:25pm on Friday in wet and foggy conditions.Besides the seven people killed, 51 others were injured.
Emergency crews spent the night scouring burned-out vehicles, combing through the charred metal littering the northbound triple carriageway on the principal route through the southwest.
The crash sparked explosions and an inferno, reducing vehicles to twisted, fire-blackened shells.
“Overnight all the vehicles involved in this tragic incident have been removed from the scene,” incident commander Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary said.
“Our worst fears have not been realized and the number of those that sadly lost their lives remains at seven,” he said.
“Extensive work has been carried out to identify those people and families are being appointed family liaison officers to support them. Formal identification has not taken place — this will happen in the coming days,” Bangham 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 at this extremely difficult time,” he said.
Witnesses described hellish scenes, with multiple explosions and towering flames sending a pall of acrid smoke into the night sky.
“We could hear people screaming in their cars. It was utter carnage,” said motorist Thomas Hamell, 25, who narrowly avoided the chaos as he came to an abrupt halt next to a jack-knifed truck at the edge of the crash site.
“We sat there and heard the thud of cars, one after another, hitting each other and thought we would be next,” he said.
Casualties were taken to two nearby hospitals. Their injuries ranged from simple limb fractures to more complex chest and abdominal trauma.
Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, said it was Britain’s worst traffic accident in two decades.
The last comparable incident being a 51-car crash on the M4 motorway in March 1991 in which 10 people died, he said.
Bev Davis, who saw the pile-up from her home close to the motorway, said: “All we could hear was the sound of a horn and then the flames got so high so quickly and the noise was horrific.”
“There must have been 200m worth of fire — plumes of smoke were going up and everything was red,” she said.
However, tales of bravery also emerged amid the horror.
Footage taken minutes after the crash showed motorists risking their own lives amid the flames to pry open vehicle doors and rescue people trapped inside.
Hamell said that he had managed to carry a baby to safety as chaos raged around him.
The teacher described how he and his two traveling companions managed to get safely out of their car at the edge of the accident and then went to assist a mother and her young baby, whose car was severely damaged in the smash.