No Deaths Pile-Up 'Truly A Miracle'
It was "truly miraculous" that no one was killed in a 100-car pile-up on a bridge in heavy fog, police have said.
Eight people were seriously injured and 35 are in hospital following the crash on the new Sheppey crossing bridge in Kent, which started at around 7.15am.
It then continued for 10 minutes as cars and lorries crashed into each other in visibility that was down to 25 yards with many people - including a family with a nine-month-old child - having narrow escapes.
It is believed to be the biggest accident in fog in living memory with around 200 people seen by medical staff at the scene on the London-bound carriageway travelling off the Isle of Sheppey.
Lives were probably saved because an unidentified quick-thinking lorry driver used his truck to block the entrance to the bridge and stop more cars piling into the crash.
Chief Inspector Andy Reeves, from Kent Police, said:
"It is truly miraculous. Looking at the extent of the incident, the number of vehicles and people involved, the damage to some of those vehicles, I think we're all very fortunate there were no fatalities."
Mr Reeves said it was too early to say what had caused the accident but the heavy fog, which often shrouds the bridge, and driver behaviour are possible factors.
There were reports of some motorists driving "like idiots" in the conditions before the crash, which completely closed the A249 that goes over the seven-year-old bridge that opened in July 2006.
Police would also look at the lack of lighting on the structure - a design issue that has been highlighted by the area's Conservative MP Gordon Henderson.
Speaking at the scene, Mr Reeves said: "In conditions of thick fog, a significant number of vehicles have been involved in a number of collisions.
"It has been ascertained that 100 vehicles have been seriously damaged in this incident, or series of incidents. In addition, a number of other vehicles have also been caught up in it.
"Visibility was very bad, I understand visibility was down to 25 metres in thick fog, and clearly visibility will be a key factor in our considerations, but at this stage we haven't yet determined what caused the start of the crash."
Mr Reeves added: "I've been doing this job over 20 years, I've never seen anything of this size or scale before."
Kent Fire and Rescue Service area manager Martin Adams said:
"The extraordinary thing about this incident was the number of vehicles that have been involved and the distance they've been spread over.
"From our perspective, speaking professionally, looking at some of the damage that you can see here today, it's miraculous that people have not lost their lives, absolutely."
The unidentified driver who put his truck across the carriageway was hailed a hero by motorists who believe he saved lives.
One of them, Chris Buckingham, told Sky News:
"Whoever that guy is, I'd like to shake his hand because he's probably saved lives today."
The scene was full of buckled cars, lorries and even a car transporter as people waited at the side of the road to receive help from the emergency services.
Six people were trapped in their vehicles and a fleet of 30 ambulances and response vehicles went to the scene.
Witness Martin Stammers, 45, from Minster, told Kent Online: "It's horrific. I've never seen anything like it in my life.
"All you could hear was cars crashing. We got out of our car and it was eerily quiet, with visibility down to just 20 yards."
Those injured were taken to local hospitals, including Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham which said it had cancelled planned surgery for the day to concentrate on those caught up in the crash.
It has treated five people for serious injuries.
Kent Police said there were collisions at the top of the bridge and at the foot of the approach to it.
Work to clear the road has now started in the heat of the day with some motorists waiting hours to get back to their cars.
The Salvation Army and St John Ambulance were on hand to help the care for those stranded and hand out refreshments in the sunshine.
Catherine Ahearne, 28, was driving husband Roy and their nine-month-old baby Eva in a Volkswagen Polo on the way to her mother Lenita Kingston's home in Crystal Palace, south east London when the crash happened. "I think God was on our side," she said.
"There was a man running up the path at the side of the road, waving his arms around - that's the first I knew there was a problem.
"I could hear screeching and crashing of cars and pulled to the middle of the road, and stopped. We took Eva out of the car seat in the back and put her in the front with us, in case anything hit us, but thankfully it didn't.
"Someone was definitely looking down on us today."
Student Jaime Emmett, 19, was driving through the fog when she became involved in the pile-up.
"There was a man at the side of the road saying to stop. I stopped in time but a van smashed into me and I smashed into the car in front," she said.
"I was lucky I was not injured. It was all quite surreal when it happened."
Ms Emmett said the fog was so thick that she could only see a few cars in front, but added:
"All I could hear was the cars smashing in front of each other and I could not know how far ahead the accident was."
A spokesman for the Highways Agency said
"It is far too early to speculate on the cause of today's incident which is still under investigation by police."
He added that, as is normal with projects of this kind, a Stage Four Road Safety Audit was carried out on the A249 scheme one year after its completion,
The spokesman went on: "This audit concluded that accidents on the A249 had decreased since the completion of the scheme and that the accident rate was below the national average for that type of road."