Two Leighton-Linslade men who risked their lives to save a woman from being horrifically burned to death following a car crash on the M1 are to receive top national bravery honours by Royal approval.
Jason Robertson, 41, of Churchill Road, and Gordon Pantling, 40, of Vimy Road, have each been awarded Royal Humane Society Testimonials on vellum which have been personally approved by the Society’s President, Princess Alexandra and will be signed by her.
The drama unfolded between Junctions 6a and 7 on the M1 near Hemel Hempstead on the afternoon of July 21 this year.
The car burst into flames after colliding with a nearside motorway barrier and was then hit by a lorry.
The two rescue heroes were in a van travelling along the motorway about 20ft behind.
They stopped and despite the danger to themselves from the fire or a possible explosion, rushed straight to the blazing vehicle to get the rear seat passenger to safety.
Seconds later the car exploded.
The dynamic duo, who work for groundworks companies, were later dubbed Batman and Robin by their work colleagues for their heroics.
Speaking to the LBO this week, Gordon recalled: “We had been working in London. Jay was driving and I was looking around and saw the car wobbled as it lost control, hit the barrier and bounce back into traffic. As soon as the lorry hit it, it burst into flames.”
Gordon said that inside the car were a Filipino family on holiday in the UK. The husband and wife in the front managed to get themselves out, but a relative in the back – a woman in her 30s/40s – was trapped.
Gordon said: “We couldn’t see her. It was just smoke and her hands appeared out of the smoke. It was like a film.
“She was banging on the window. Jay started kicking at the window, but only had trainers on so I thought he wouldn’t break through, but it gave way. We grabbed an arm each and pulled her out. Her hair was on fire, so she suffered some burnt hair, but wasn’t badly hurt otherwise.
“It was a few second later when we were about 20ft away, that it exploded. The trailer and the cab went up in flames too. I do a bit of banger racing and see cars burst into flames sometimes, but I’d not seen anything like this.”
The pair then directed the traffic, and waited for the emergency services to arrive on the scene.
Gordon added: “We didn’t think. We just did it. Afterwards if you think about it, I’m not sure if I’d want to go running up to a car embedded under a lorry and engulfed in flames. But you either react or you run away.
“I’d like to think if it was a member of my family then someone would do the same.
“The chief inspector called us a couple of days later and said he’d put us up for a bravery award.”
Jason also recalled the terrible events to the LBO. He said: “I saw the car going underneath the lorry and then it was up in flames instantly.
“I pulled over to the hard shoulder and ran back down to them. All that was going through my mind was ‘this is going to blow up’. My mind went blank and I just did what I had to do. The adrenalin kicked in.
“There was a woman in the back, but it was full of smoke. The door handle came off in my hand, but I kicked the window in and we got her out and seconds later it went up. It was like a horror movie.”
“They couldn’t thank us enough. I still receive messages to say thank you.”
As well as their awards the pair have also won the personal praise of Royal Humane Society secretary, Andrew Chapman.
As he announced the awards at the Society’s headquarters in London he said: “They were the right people in the right place at the right time.
“They showed enormous courage going up to a car which was ablaze in order to get the occupant trapped inside out and to safety. Anyone who approaches a blazing vehicle is taking their life in their hands.
“Other people who witnessed what happened and the fire officers who attended the scene considered that if these two men had not done what they did when they did it, then at the very least the rear seat passenger would undoubtedly have lost her life. They richly deserve the awards they are to receive.”
No date has yet been fixed for presentation of the awards but it is expected to take place in February.
The roots of the Royal Humane Society stretch back more than two centuries. The Queen is its patron and its president is Princess Alexandra. It is the premier national body for honouring bravery in the saving of human life.
It was founded in 1774 by two of the day’s eminent medical men, William Hawes and Thomas Cogan. Their primary motive was to promote techniques of resuscitation.
However, as it emerged that numerous people were prepared to put their own lives at risk to save others, the awards scheme evolved, and today a variety of awards are made depending on the bravery involved.
The society also awards non health care professionals who perform a successful resuscitation. Since it was set up the society has considered over 87,000 cases and made over 200,000 awards. The society is a registered charity which receives no public funding and is dependent on voluntary donations.
It is one of a select number of organisations to recently receive a donation from the Patron’s fund which was set up to acknowledge work done by organisations of which the Queen is the patron to mark her 90th birthday.