Bernie Butler

Heroic Bernie Butler risked his life to rescue a man from a devastating explosion after a lorry collided with a gas tanker on the M6 motorway.


Lorry driver Bernie was travelling southbound when he witnessed another lorry, driven by Philip O'Dowd, career across the central reservation and crash head on into a chemical tanker.

The resulting smash created a fireball which sent 50ft flames roaring into the sky, melting the road beneath it.

As cars screeched to a halt on both sides of the motorway Bernie, 68, knew he had to act.

With the mangled wreckage twisted and burning at temperatures of more than 1,000ºF, Bernie parked his articulated lorry across three lanes of traffic to ensure no one could pass.

He then scrambled out of his truck and ran to help two trapped men. As the five chambers of the chemical tanker exploded in sequence, Bernie hauled Philip, 43, from his cabin and extinguished the flames that had engulfed his body with his hands.

Despite Bernie's best attempts to reach trapped driver Graham Ceney, he sadly died.

As onlookers shouted at him from all directions, concerned about further explosions, Bernie continued plugging Philip's wounds with gloves and shrinkwrap from his sandwich box for 45 minutes until paramedics arrived.

"I can remember the whole incident as if it was yesterday," Bernie, from Kirkby, Merseyside, recalls. "It was like something out of a movie scene but happened right in front of me. I could see the men in the cabs were on fire, but I didn't even think, I just ran.

"I yelled at other drivers, who had stopped, but they were screaming at me to leave because the flames were so high."

More than 100 people had to be led to safety after the accident, which closed the motorway for two days. Bernie retired after a triple heart bypass last April, but is still in touch with Mr O'Dowd, who was badly burned and lay in a coma for five weeks following the crash.

"That man saved my life and I will always be in his debt," says father-of-two Philip, from Cannock, Staffordshire. "What he did for me and my family that night was really heroic, and after seeing and hearing how severe the crash was, I can't believe he risked his life to save me. "I only have vague memories of that night, but everything I do now, I can only do because of Bernie Butler."

Praising Bernie's bravery, Kevin O'Leary, Chief Superintendent of the Central Motorway Policing Group, says, "Bernie's actions on that night were truly heroic.

"To risk his life is extremely commendable, and that he has handled himself with such modesty is a testament to the sort of man he is."


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