Friday, October 19, 2012

'I grabbed hold of the wheel for dear life'

He was driving on the expressway when a car on the opposite side of the road suddenly crashed into the central divider and flipped in the air.

Then, a broken-off concrete block about the size of a brick flew towards his vehicle. He heard a thud and his car spun out of control and flipped on its left.

"I didn't realise I was going off the road. It seemed to happen in slow motion," said Mr Jayanath Perera, 52.

"I grabbed hold of the wheel for dear life." When his car flipped and landed on its side, it trapped him inside.

The accident happened on the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE)on Sunday.

Mr Perera said he had been driving from his Bukit Batok home to church, in Bugis, at about 12.45pm.

He was travelling on the right-most lane on the PIE when a white Mitsubishi car travelling on the opposite side of the road crashed.

Mr Perera, a technical writer, said that when his Hyundai Matrix came to a stop, he found himself without a scratch on his body, although his right wrist was sprained.

"My first thought was: ' My car is gone!' Next I thought: 'How do I get out of the car?'"

He switched off the engine and rolled down a window to get air.

Traffic was light at the time and cars behind him were not affected, Mr Perera said.

"I stayed still, hoping someone would help. It was strange, at the moment I could think quite clearly. I knew I was okay, but I thought I shouldn't do anything stupid."

Thumbs up

Then one person stopped by to ask if he was fine. Mr Perera gave a thumbs up sign.

Four more men rushed to him, drivers and motorcyclists alike. Among them was PR consultant Richard Koong, 62, who arrived in his Mitsubishi Colt Plus.

They tried to open the doors of his Hyundai, but the doors were jammed.

So they lined up alongside Mr Perera's car and tried to right it as he braced himself for the jerk.

"We tried twice or thrice: One, two three, push. The car shook a bit, but it was too heavy for us," said Mr Koong, who had been travelling on the second lane from the right.

He remembered Mr Perera overtaking him just before the accident.

He had also caught a video of both accidents: The white Mitsubishi mounting the railings before falling back, and the bronze Hyundai veering to its right before flipping over.

Faced with the stuck doors of Mr Perera's car, somebody suggested breaking the windshield.

Then another person opened the rear hatch of the car.

Mr Perera unbuckled himself, half-stood up and crawled through the back of his car to freedom.

Yesterday, Mr Perera said he was impressed with the car design, as he was comfortably seated and strapped back - "as if it was normal to be on my side".

The possibility of the car catching fire crossed his mind, but he didn't smell anything burning. The accident dented the seven-year-old car on all sides, but inside, it was safe, he said.

Mr Koong said he was shocked when he saw Mr Perera's car flip.

He parked his car on the left side of the expressway and went back to help.

"I thought it could be serious. He could have been hurt. I immediately wondered if there was petrol, but there was no petrol on the ground."

Mr Perera said another driver parked his car behind his own, so nobody would hit his car.

Some people even passed him their mobile phone numbers, volunteering to be witnesses as he waited for the police and ambulance by the side of the road.

One man waited at least half an hour until Mr Perera's family - his wife and two sons in National Service - got there, after which he was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

A woman also got out of her car to tell him she had called the police before driving off.

Mr Perera said he called those who helped him on Sunday night to thank them.

"They went out of their way to stay with me, they made sure I was okay.

"I'm very appreciative of them; very appreciative that I've no injuries. Cars can be replaced, but the most important thing is I'm unhurt," he said.

The police said yesterday that the driver of the white car was not taken to hospital. He is assisting with investigations.

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