2023 Winner

John Rastrick

Lorry driver pulled woman from a burning car seconds before it exploded after motorway crash.

John, 69, was driving along the M1 when he witnessed a catastrophic collision that saw a car burst into flames.

Stopping immediately, the great-granddad ran towards the inferno as thick smoke and fire engulfed the car.

John, from Chesterfield, says: “There was no hesitation, no second thought. I was 110% focused on what I needed to do. I had to get to the car. I had no idea who was in there, or how many people I was running towards, but I knew there wasn’t a second to spare.”

When he reached the car, John pulled open the driver’s door and found Pari Mistry, then 27, curled up in the driver’s seat.

“Looking inside, everything was already alight,” recalls John. “I found Pari in there curled up with her knees under her chin and just said to her, ‘You’re coming with me, darling.’

“Thankfully there was no-one in the back, because as far as I could see, there was no way they’d have survived if there was.

“By then, people were already heading my way – and incredibly one of them was a woman who had previously worked for a fire department in the US. She was saying to me, ‘Don’t move them’, but with the flames moving through the car, I had no choice.”

Just 29 seconds after John had left his truck, with Pari now outside, the car was entirely engulfed in flames.

“By now the car was really burning with things popping off it in every direction,” recalls John. With the help of other drivers who had also stopped, John carried Pari about 20 yards along the road out of harm’s way while they waited for emergency services to arrive.

“When the ambulance drove Pari away, I got back in the cab and burst into tears,” recalls John. “I felt so relieved she was alive.”

Pari, from Leicester, spent four days in a critical care unit with a skull fracture. After an eight-hour operation on her head, she then had to learn to walk and talk again.

She said later: “I don’t remember much from the incident, but I know I immediately thought I was going to die. For my family, this incident was especially hard as we are all really close. With their support and help, I was able to persevere with my recovery and say thank you to John in my own words.”

John and Pari met for the first time a few months after the crash, which happened in January 2019.

“I went to visit Pari and her family, and they took myself and my wife Janet out for a beautiful meal,” recalls John. “Since then, we have always kept in touch and she’s come to mean a great deal to me and my family.”

Earlier this year, Pari became a mum for the first time. John and Janet met the baby in September. “To know that this beautiful family is going on to thrive and experience all these fantastic moments together is a great feeling,” he says.

“What happened that evening made a huge impact on me, and definitely changed me. It still makes me very emotional to think of how things might have turned out if they hadn’t come together as they did.”