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Dad of two explains how he escaped from van in River Tamar after crashing through Gunnislake bridge

By Plymouth Herald  |  Posted: February 07, 2014

Comments (17)

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.

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  • chloeharford  |  February 08 2014, 6:43PM

    There was definitely NO ICE, yes he is lucky to be alive but I think it's wrong to be interviewing him after his careless driving has caused not just huge inconvenience to thousands but a very large amount of lost business to a lot of people who depend on this route for their livelihoods, is he going to compensate, I very much doubt it, perhaps he should be made to take some lessons on driving safely.

    |   5
  • DUCK10  |  February 07 2014, 12:40PM

    My husband travelled over bridge @ 8.45 - No Ice, I followed @ 9.02 am - No Ice, but van was in River - How di it become as Icy as Hell in between these times? or was this just careless driving which has resulted in the disruption of every day life to commuters from Cornwall.

    |   10
  • josdave  |  February 07 2014, 8:07AM

    Lucky to still be alive but it was clearly self inflicted. Perhaps he will drive more carefully in the future but I doubt it.

    |   11
  • plymboy  |  February 06 2014, 11:08PM

    Doesn't sound as though it was an ice olated incident, shame the mobile was left in the van & not in his pocket. Good job nobody else was hurt.

    |   14
  • manutd1975  |  February 06 2014, 10:36PM

    (pilgrims33) I think your grouping of this companies drivers is slightly harsh, I am unaware of any previous serious accident involving a vehicle bearing this companies name, therefore it is surely an isolated incident. I too drive a marked vehicle and spend a lot of time behind the wheel and see plenty of accidents (vehicles in hedges, head on collisions and yes the odd one in a river) but not carrying this name. I come across extremely rude and inconsiderate drivers every single day which I would love to be able to react to, but because I carry a logo it's more than more jobs worth, and if I were to react it's made extremely easy for people like yourself to pick up the phone and complain. You may be correct in your assessment of the speed the vehicle was going or what if any other factors were involved, but as I said this is an isolated incident and unfair of you to cover the company under one umbrella.

  • pilgrims33  |  February 06 2014, 9:08PM

    frosty24. I too drove over the bridge just before this accident, with no sign of ice on the roads anywhere!! The speed and ways you see this companies vans driving around is probably a big factor of how he ended up in the river.

    |   10
  • pilgrims33  |  February 06 2014, 9:00PM

    Frosty24. I too drove over the bridge just before the accident, with no signs of ice on the roads!! The speeds and ways you see this companies vans drive around, is probably a big factor of how he ended up in the river.

    |   12
  • bullocks400  |  February 06 2014, 7:18PM

    Whatever is going on? Trying to turn a twit, who clearly doesn't drive too well, into a celebrity. Perhaps a few pedestrians and cyclists can use the bridge, but what about the rest of the 8,000 odd movements daily? Very many people are being inconvenienced and suffering financially due to long detours. We all know that accidents happen, but please don't turn this 'driver' into some sort of hero.

    |   17
  • Waltersmith  |  February 06 2014, 6:12PM

    The speed limit is 30mph, by the time he tturned onto the bridge and to be sure the bridge was free he should have been travelling at about 15 mph i doubt the ice issue. It wsn't cold enough Why were his wallet and mobile phone in the van? I keep both in my pockets when driving

    |   10
  • welsh_exile  |  February 06 2014, 6:10PM

    He must have been going slow further up the hill or he'd never have made it around the hairpin so he must have gunned it for the last 400 yds. before the left hand turn onto the bridge. Silly man!

    |   9