The Duke of Edinburgh had to climb from the wreckage of his car following a crash in which his Land Rover overturned on its side.
The 97-year-old was on Thursday afternoon said to look distraught and “quite shaken” after the accident, which left two other people in hospital with minor injuries.
He was recovering at Sandringham with the Queen by his side, after being checked by a doctor as a precaution and found to have no injuries.
Police confirmed that both the Duke and a female driver had been breathalysed at the scene and had not been drinking. A witness said the Queen’s husband appeared “shocked and shaken” after the crash, describing the fact he was uninjured as a “miracle”.
The witness told The Telegraph the Duke had seemed “quite distraught” in the aftermath of the incident, as police arrived at the scene. He is understood to have been helped out of his vehicle, which had flipped over, trapping the driver’s door shut.
Photographs of the wreckage appeared to show that the car had been hit on its passenger side, with heavy scrapes and dents in what will have been a “reinforced” vehicle made for the Royal family.
A second car, a Kia, was left on a verge after the crash on the A149 near the Sandringham estate shortly before 3pm on Thursday.
There were conflicting reports about precisely how the crash unfolded, but locals believed the Duke was leaving a small private side road, intending to cross the A149 as he headed back to Sandringham when he collided with a car travelling south.
The Duke, who was wearing casual country attire, was seen speaking to uniformed police as a group of about five people comforted one another near to the second car. Ambulance crews were called to the scene, where the B1439 joins the A road in a stretch known as Queen Elizabeth Way. The royal car and one other vehicle were taken from the scene by recovery lorry. A Buckingham Palace source confirmed that the Duke holds a current driving licence; the law requires those over 70 to reapply every three years.
A spokesman for Norfolk Police said on Thursday night: “It is force policy to breath test drivers involved in collisions. We can confirm both drivers were breath tested and provided negative readings.”
An eyewitness who took a photograph of the scene moments after the crash and asked not to be named said: “The Duke looked distraught. He looked quite shocked and shaken. It was extraordinary to see the Duke of Edinburgh. He looked at me as I approached the junction. Police were already on the scene, helping him. There’s a police station not far away.
“The fact anybody walked away from that is incredible. If a 30-year-old had walked away from that unhurt it would be a miracle. For a 97-year-old man, that is something else.” He added that the Duke looked to have been turning right on to the main road when the collision happened.
Norfolk Police added last night: “The male driver of the Land Rrover was uninjured. The female driver of the Kia suffered cuts while the female passenger sustained an arm injury, both requiring hospital treatment. We can confirm both casualties were treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn and have since been discharged.
“The road remained open and both vehicles were recovered”.
In a statement three hours after the incident, Buckingham Palace said: “The Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a road traffic accident with another vehicle this afternoon. The Duke was not injured. The accident took place close to the Sandringham Estate. Local police attended the scene.” A Palace aide added: “He saw a doctor as a precaution and the doctor confirmed he was not injured.”
The spokesman would not comment on whether the Duke had passengers, but it is likely that he was travelling with a protection officer.
Berneen Caney, a 25-year-old support worker from King’s Lynn who was nearby, said: “It appeared to be quite serious, there was a lot of glass over the road as well as debris. I saw one of the cars was quite badly damaged… its windows were smashed. By the time I passed by, [it] had been tipped back up on its wheels.”
Local driver Natalie Courtney Ely, wrote on a Facebook page: “I drove past about 10 minutes after it happened, if that. I’m surprised he wasn’t hurt. On that stretch of road the sunlight was causing major visibility issues for me so I’m sure it was for other drivers too – maybe they should consider that due to this the poor visibility was more of a cause for the collision rather than speed.”
Both the Duke and the Queen have been staying at Sandringham since before Christmas, and traditionally remain there until Feb 6.
The Prince of Wales was yesterday at his Scottish residence at Birkhall, and had been made aware of the accident. The Duke, who retired from official royal engagements in August 2017 and had a hip replacement in April, is regularly seen driving his car and a carriage. He drove Barack Obama, the former US President, and his wife Michelle with the Queen to Windsor Castle after the presidential helicopter landed nearby for a visit to the UK in April 2016.
The Archbishop of York shared a message of support for the Duke.
Edmund King, the AA president, said: “We wish the Duke well. Many commentators use high profile car crashes involving elderly drivers as a reason to call for bans or restrictions on older drivers. [But] if driving restrictions based on age and safety were introduced we would be more likely to restrict young drivers rather than older drivers.
"The decision to hang up your keys is a tough one but should be based on personal advice from your GP and family rather than being based on some arbitrary age. We all age differently and the car is an essential lifeline for many elderly people.”
The steward at Babingley Social Club, around 200 yards from the crash scene, described the A149 as “one of the busiest roads in Norfolk.”