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M5 Pile-Up Drivers Hit 'Wall Of Blackness'

M5 Pile-Up Drivers Hit 'Wall Of Blackness'

Motorists and passengers involved in a fatal motorway pile-up have described to a jury being enveloped by blackness "like a blanket", before a series of collisions likened to being in a "pinball machine".

Seven people died and 51 were injured when 34 cars collided at a section of the M5 in Somerset, on November 4, 2011.

In harrowing accounts to a court, drivers told how they suddenly lost all visibility as they were "engulfed in thick smog", and feared they would be killed in the ensuing multiple impacts.

One witness described how they had hit a "wall of blackness" that smelt like firework smoke.

Bristol Crown Court heard that the smog built up during and after a fireworks display at Taunton Rugby Club and drifted across the road.

Collisions began just six minutes after the £3,000 display, organised by 51-year-old Geoffrey Counsell, which involved 1,500 fireworks exploding in 15 minutes.

Counsell, of Ashill in Somerset, is charged with breaching health and safety regulations by failing to ensure the safety of others, which he denies.

Stephen Crowle was driving from Plymouth in Devon to Gloucestershire with his wife Susan on the evening of the tragedy.

"We suddenly hit what I consider almost like a black wall," Mr Crowle said.

"Visibility dropped dramatically, certainly from almost 200 feet, 200 metres or so, to virtually nothing."

Mrs Crowle, a front-seat passenger in the Nissan Qashqai, also told the jury: "It was very dense, we couldn't see anything. It was obviously very frightening."

The patch lasted several seconds and then suddenly cleared, said Mrs Crowle who told the jury she had been using that stretch of the M5 since 1975.

"As we carried on out of the blackness, I put my window down. It was like the after-smell of fireworks and smoke," she said.

Philip Smith was driving his Peugeot 306 from Plymouth to Windsor with his son-in-law, wife, daughter and granddaughter.

"The weather was clear. Suddenly I drove into what I would describe as a mix of smoke and fog that was black in colour. It came out of nowhere," he told the jury.

"It was so thick. It was like something out of a movie. Visibility was at zero. It was absolutely black. I couldn't see the bonnet of my car.

"It was quite scary. It was the worst thing I have driven through."

A statement read from one driver, named only as Mr Kingsland to the jury, said he was travelling along the motorway in his silver Ford Galaxy car.

"Within a fraction of a second, it seemed my windscreen went completely white, as if a blanket had been thrown over it," Mr Kingsland said.

"I immediately thought I was going to hit the vehicle in front so braked as hard as I could, it was a full emergency brake situation.

"I can't remember what happened next apart from to say I was hit at least four to five times from the side to the rear.

"At this point I thought the next was going to kill me and felt very vulnerable. I would liken it to being in a pinball machine."

Richard Thorne, an articulated lorry driver for Langdon Transport with 20 years of experience, had been lying down in the bunk of the lorry while colleague Perry Mead drove.

He told the jury he first felt the brakes being applied "really, really hard" - leaving him clinging on to the seat in front of the bunk.

Mr Thorne said. "I couldn't see anything on the other side of the glass. It was just brown, swirling with bits of black stuff in it. I couldn't see the windscreen wipers."

The trial continues.