Durban - Paramedics and traffic officials say they have never seen a worse accident.
In a horror crash on Field’s Hill near Pinetown on Thursday night, at least 27 people died and another 60 were injured when an 18-wheeler truck carrying containers ploughed into four fully-laden taxis and two cars and crushed another car.
Chris Botha of Netcare 911 said the truck had been on its way down the M13.
“The total body count is 27 with seven in a critical condition, eight in a serious condition and 11 with minor injuries,” said Botha.
ER24’s Werner Vermaak said: “Bystanders were flagging down paramedics and pointing in all directions where patients were strewn across.”
The majority of passengers were flung from the vehicles as the truck collided with them, he said.
At 8.30pm, 90 minutes after the crash, the paramedics were waiting for the police to finish their investigation before they could reach bodies trapped in the wreckage.
Sapa reporter Gio Stolley, who was on the scene, said it appeared the truck had been coming down Field’s Hill and had taken the Richmond Road off-ramp, but, unable to stop at the robots, ploughed through the intersection, hitting the taxis, before continuing back up the on-ramp.
“It came to a stop about 25m from the scene, almost making it back on to the M13,” he said.
Stolley said bodies were strewn over the road, covered with silver blankets.
“Two of the taxis had their roofs and sides completely ripped off,” he said. Bystanders were helping paramedics by holding drip bags; there were bags and clothes and shoes everywhere.
Stolley said he climbed a bank about 7m above the accident scene and found the speakers from one of the taxis on top of the slope.
“That gives some idea as to the force of the impact,” he said.
Rescuers used the Jaws of Life to free passengers from wreckage.
Kwanele Ncalane, of the KZN Transport Department, was on the scene.
“I have never seen an accident as terrible as this one; bodies are scattered everywhere. It is going to be a very long night,” said Ncalane
Lilian Develing, the chairwoman of the Hillcrest Ratepayers’ Association, said that this was the worst accident she had heard of in her 12 years as chairwoman.
“We have been campaigning for the last four years to have the tollgate moved from Mariannhill to Ashburton (near Pietermaritzburg). That way, trucks will be paying their toll fees further up the N3 and will not divert off the freeway to skip paying toll fees,” she said.
“An accident like this calls into question the roadworthiness of trucks and whether or not the drivers are well rested.”
Darryn Evans, of Duzi Brakes, a company specialising in brakes on heavy vehicles, said he had been called out to investigate many accidents like this and most were due to “a shocking lack of maintenance” on trucks.
“If the truck was fully loaded, it would never have been able to stop in an instant; however, a truck with good brakes will be able to stop safely but never instantly,” said Evans.
“There is a lot that needs to be taken into consideration, but without actually being on the scene, this is just speculation.”
A police source at the scene said the truck driver died in the accident. “He attempted to use Richmond Road as an arrester bed to stop the truck, instead of the bank.”