A FATHER of two who had a lucky escape after his van crashed through a bridge in Gunnislake and plummeted into the fast-flowing River Tamar below has said how thinking of his children kept him alive.
Thirty-year-old Dan Behennah, who suffered a broken collarbone in the incident on Saturday morning, said the thought of his two young sons kept him focused as he freed himself from the vehicle, which was sinking fast.
Dan was driving to Tavistock from Callington at around 9am, when he lost control of his van on what he thought must have been a patch of ice on the road at Newbridge Hill, and careered through the bridge wall into the River Tamar.
Dan, who lives in Tavistock, said: “I was coming down the hill and started braking around the corner. It was icy as hell that morning and as I put my brakes on the van just kept going.
“The van hit the corner of one side of the bridge and it pushed the front of the van across. I tried to steer away but went straight through the wall and nose-dived into the water. The only thing I remember at that point was holding onto the steering wheel with the water coming towards me and I just thought that was it.”
Dan, who was on his way to pick up his sons, two-year-old Freddie and one-year-old Max, said as the van hit the water he knew he had to get out as quickly as possible before the current pulled it under.
“As soon as the van hit the water I managed to quickly open the door and squeeze out and climb on top. You see things like that on TV so I knew the pressure of the water against the door would stop me from opening it — I just thought I had to get out before the van went under.”
When on top of the van, Dan jumped as far as he could and swam towards the riverbank, where he grabbed onto a branch to pull himself out, despite having a broken collarbone.
“The adrenaline got me through it. As I was holding on to the branch the water was sucking me under. I just thought of my boys and thought I had to get out.”
Dan said when he got out, he walked up the bank and a man who lived nearby took him into his house.
“He was brilliant. He gave me a sugary coffee for the shock and some dry clothes to put on — I owe him a lot.”
The airbag in the van did not inflate during the incident, which Dan said he was quite glad of, because it may have knocked him out, meaning he would not have been able to get out as quickly as he did.
His possessions, such as his wallet and his mobile phone, were still in the van and in the water for days after the incident, but Dan said he would rather lose his wallet than his life.
“I dread to think what could have happened — it could have been a lot worse,” he said.
The 15th century bridge, which sees between 8,000 and 10,000 traffic movements a day, has been closed since the incident happened.
Devon County Council has confirmed that it is responsible for Newbridge and that engineers were on site this week erecting an access platform, from which the emergency repairs will be made.
Councillor Stuart Hughes, the council’s cabinet member responsible for highway maintenance said he was expecting the platform to take a couple of days to erect but it could be made more difficult by high winds and rain.
He said: “We will have divers in the river retrieving the coping stones from the Grade 1 listed bridge as soon as river levels permit. Stonemasons are ready to make the repairs, and work will commence as soon as the access platform is ready.
The bridge is likely to be closed to traffic for at least two weeks but there will be access for pedestrians and cyclists.
The council is expecting to claim the cost of the repairs from the driver’s insurance.
Diversions have been put in place for traffic for the duration of the work.
The pedestrian and cycle access across the bridge was due to be operational yesterday and DAC Coaches, which runs the 79 service from Callington to Tavistock, will be operating a near normal service with buses stopping either side of the bridge.
A spokesperson for DAC Coaches said: “The buses will be re-instated on a near-normal service with one bus running from Callington to Gunnislake Bridge, where passengers can walk across and get on an awaiting bus to Tavistock.