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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 12:32 GMT
Train crash stuns village
Site of the crash
Villagers were woken by the horrific accident
By BBC News Online correspondent Mike McKay

The snow began to swirl furiously as John Prescott, the transport minister, walked onto the bridge overlooking the crash scene.

Within seconds the minister, hunched against the biting cold, was swallowed up by the hundreds of reporters and radio and camera crews who have taken over the village of Great Heck.

While Mr Prescott delivered a series of live TV interviews on the bridge, shocked villagers told how they had woken to the sound of the early morning collision.

The residents have been devastated by this accident but their first instinct was to try to help

Martin Shepherd
Diocese of North Yorkshire
Dave Chandler, whose house stands 150 yards from the crash scene, said: "We are used to banging and bumping noises from passing trains but when this one woke me up, I also heard a screeching and rumbling sound.

"Then a few minutes later we heard the police and ambulances rushing through the village."

Houses open

Other villagers threw open their houses to the first survivors to stumble from the disaster.

The tiny local church hall was opened to provide help and accommodation for friends and relatives coming to the scene.

Martin Shepherd, press officer for the North Yorkshire diocese, said: "The residents have been devastated by this accident but their first instinct was to try to help."

John Prescott
Mr Prescott attended the crash site
Every official willing to talk to the media was asked the same question - how had a Land Rover and trailer carrying a dark blue Renault rolled down a bank into the path of an oncoming express train?

John Prescott said he would await the outcome of a health and safety inquiry.

Christopher Garnett, chief executive of GNER, was clearly perplexed by the same question.

"Railways are supposed to be secure areas," he said.

Tyre burst

"Why this happened we do not know."

What is known is that the Land Rover was delivering a car from Lincoln to Manchester when a tyre burst sent it careering 25ft down the M62 westbound embankment.

It was hit by the Newcastle-to-London express travelling at 125mph on one of the fastest stretches of railway track in Britain.

The 37-year-old Land Rover driver had leapt clear and was frantically phoning the police when his vehicle was hit by the passenger train.

A fatal inevitability then followed this bizarre accident.

Temporary mortuaries

The passenger train derailed by the Land Rover sped half a mile down track and into the path of the 34-wagon, 1500-tonne coal train.

By mid-morning, the fields around the collision scene resembled a battlefield.

Two striking blue and white tents were erected as temporary mortuaries.

Two RAF Sea King helicopters stood by in the same field to fly casualties to hospital.

Police and rail staff in fluorescent jackets were everywhere.

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