East Lancashire Dakar Rally man's crash horror story

Lancashire Telegraph: HOME Justin Birchall HOME Justin Birchall

A DAD who survived a fatal crash during the world's toughest race has relived the horrific accident for the first time.

Speaking about the nightmare collision in South America, in which two people were killed, Justin Birchall, 40, said: “I thought it was curtains for me.”

And he has pledged to continue his rallying career, despite the tragedy.

He was travelling in a support vehicle with other members of his team, Race2Recovery, following a stage of the Dakar Rally in Peru.

The crash happened when his vehicle, a Land Rover Defender, hit a taxi head-on while travelling in convoy alongside other support vehicles.

A second taxi overturned several times as it swerved to avoid the accident.

The driver and a passenger in one of the taxis died, while four other Peruvians were also injured.

He said: "I thought it was curtains when the second taxi came towards us but we were extremely lucky the driver managed to brake and swerve.

“Looking back at the wreckage, the cars were absolutely destroyed. The structure of the Land Rover saved us.

“My heart goes out to the two lads who didn’t make it.”

Despite almost being killed in the smash, the dad-of-three has pledged to compete in the gruelling 9,000km race again.

He said: "The passion you pick up for the Dakar is incredible. I don’t want to commit just yet but I’d like to go back and finish it."

The businessman said the race was the second best experience of his life - after the births of his three daughters.

Justin, originally from Highfield Avenue, Burnley, and now living in Middop in the Ribble Valley, said he felt lucky not to have been more badly hurt in the accident.

He said: “Initially I was laid across the back seat and got thrown around. I knew exactly what was happening when we hit the first taxi.

“I couldn’t fully sit up and my abdomen and ribs were in pain."

Justin, a director at Birchall Foodservice in Hapton’s Network 65 Business Park, was part of the Race2Recovery team, made up of civilians and ex-servicemen from the British and American armed forces.

One of its crews, Major Matt O’Hare and Corporal Phillip Gillespie, an amputee from Northern Ireland, became the first disability team to complete the two-week rally.

Justin and his navigator, Cpl Tom Neathway, were forced to retire from the race when their Wildcat vehicle broke down during the fourth stage.

The team has now raised almost £1million for various veterans’ charities, and could return to South America next year.

Justin, a former student at Casterton Primary School, Fisher More High School and Nelson and Colne College, said: “It’s just unbelievable. We had more challenges thrown at us than is imaginable.

“First we had the retirement of our vehicle, then the road accident and even after that the team had two service vehicles break down.

“The character and tenacity of the guys in my team was fantastic. We were such an eclectic mix but I really learnt the military meaning of ‘band of brothers’.”

His 43-year-old wife Louise, and daughters Alicia, eight, Sigourney, 17 and Courtney, 19, welcomed him back with open arms after he landed at Heathrow Airport last Thursday.

He said: “I think they missed me more than they thought they would! Louise was distraught after the accident but I told her not to panic.

“I look at my injuries then look at the guys in my team - it just spurs you on seeing what they can do with missing limbs.

“People were gobsmacked by what our team achieved, we did anything and everything to get across that finish line.

“Let’s not lose sight of what we’ve done. We’ve made history.”

Three weeks on from the crash, Justin said his ribs were ‘still a bit sore’ but that didn’t stop him going straight back to work upon his return to East Lancashire.

He said: “I think I need to remember to take my tablets and maybe take a few more half-days.”

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