IT was the usual Hirst family outing ending with two police cars, an ambulance, two Highways agencies vehicles and the RAC.
Oh, and a documentary film-maker.
What all started out so simply enough last Saturday lunchtime ended up proving that miracles do happen – at Christmas and other times of the year.
We met a family from Manchester on holiday a few years ago and were invited over to lunch as the dad had festooned his house with Christmas lights.
Easy enough you’d think, although it was absolutely pouring down.
There were six of us in the car as we set off on the M62 – me, my wife Ruth and children George, Sally, Rosie and Harry.
Just after Outlane Golf Club the first lights flashed on the overhead sign warning, Surface Water Slow Down. As you could feel the surface water under the tyres we wondered why the warning was really necessary – surely everyone would see how bad the conditions were and drive sensibly.
We carried on in the inside lane at around 50mph and many others were doing the same.
But as we started down the longhill stretch from Junction 22 at Windy Hill to Junction 21 at Milnrow several cars were flashing past in the second and even the third lanes.
I even said to Ruth they had far more faith in their vehicles than I had in mine driving at that speed – so fast and so close. Every now and again you could feel the car lurch as it hit the deepest patches of surface water.
The next thing I remember is seeing something out of the corner of my eye – a flash of silver. It was a car: turning round and going sideways – but faster than us. As it spun it came across from the third lane directly at us, so I steered to the left to try to avoid it, braking as I did.
It was no good.
There was a bang as the silver car flashed from view and the next thing we’re off the motorway and heading into the undergrowth.
By now I’d slammed all on as we careered over rough ground, the car biting deeper and deeper into the soft ground with screams in my ears.
And then we stopped – right next to a road sign. I turned round to find six shocked faces staring back. All were all right. A massive relief. I got out and the other car was in the trees just behind us. The driver – a young woman was still sitting in her seat badly shocked – and the car, a Mercedes sports – had ploughed sideways into some thin trees and was badly damaged.
We turned her engine off and called police and ambulance as she was complaining of neck and head pain.
Passing Highways Agency roadworkers stopped to see if we were OK. They organised for the Matrix signs to be switched to 50mph and said they couldn’t believe how many cars were simply going too fast and too close.
And that’s when I noticed the miracle. We’d shot off the motorway around 10ft before a barrier. If we’d clipped the front of it the car would probably have taken off and rolled over several times down the carriageway. Failing that, the barrier would have pushed us back on to the motorway and we’d probably have been hit by several vehicles.
The other driver was by this time crying inconsolably, telling Ruth who stayed with her: “I’m so sorry. I could have killed your kids. I’m so sorry.’’
After being checked out by paramedics she didn’t need hospital treatment so we’d all got away with it unscathed.
Our car, a Citroen Picasso, had sunk quite deep at the front and in the immediate aftermath of the crash before I got out to check the damage thought the front would have been virtually destroyed by the impact. But when we had chance to check it over all we could see was a big black mark on the front offside – and the police said it was a tyre scuff from the Mercedes so it may even have been slightly in the air when it hit us.
The RAC came to recover it and with Tom, the RAC man, came a film-maker shooting a documentary for Channel 5 about what the organisation has to face called Winter Road Rescue which will be aired in the spring. Our story – if it doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor – will probably get across the dangers of torrential rain and risks of aquaplaning.
Amazingly, after a recovery firm used heavy duty winching gear to pull our car out and onto the hard shoulder both the police and Tom reckoned it was driveable. And it was. We drove it the half-mile off the motorway where Tom checked it out underneath and all was fine apart from the damaged panel.
And no, we never got to Manchester to see those lights. As a family we’re not renowned for our good luck and the usual bad fortune had kicked in as we’d been sideswiped off the motorway.
But we must also be one of the luckiest families in the country by missing the barrier, coming to a halt and not only walking away from it but driving away from it.
Miracles do happen. And last Saturday one happened to us. Have a Happy New Year. Ours will now be extra special as we’re all here to see it.