Plumber’s miracle escape after 40-foot tree fell on van in Sidmouth

Hugh Butler of Fords had 'lucky escape' when tree fell on his van

Hugh Butler of Fords had 'lucky escape' when tree fell on his van - Credit: Archant

‘I feel so grateful, an average car would have been crushed’ - Hugh Butler

Hugh Butler

Hugh Butler - Credit: Archant

A plumber who escaped death after a 40-foot tree fell on his van in Sidmouth says he feels lucky to be alive.

Hugh Butler has described how he was driving slowly along Broadway, near St John’s School, at 9.50am on Monday when the branches shattered the windscreen and sent shards of glass into his eyes.

The father-of-three sustained injuries all over his body and had to undergo extensive treatment to safeguard his sight – but he says he is just thankful a child was not killed.

Hugh works for Fords of Sidmouth and was renovating a bathroom in Bickwell Valley on the morning of the incident.

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He said: “I was trundling along Broadway at about 25mph. The road was clear and nothing was in front of me. There was no sound and no wind and then suddenly there was this almighty explosion – that’s the only way I can describe it. I had this sudden blast of white powder that shot into my eye. It turns out this was glass from the shattered windscreen. My arms almost seemed to start sweating blood from all the tiny holes that were caused by shards of glass. I tried to open the door to get out but it was jammed with tree branches. I managed to force my way out and that was when I saw the tree on top of the truck. I felt quite faint by then and was shaking. There was no-one about so I went up the nearest driveway and banged on the door for help.”

The couple in the house called the emergency services, brought him sweet tea for the shock and looked after him until the paramedics arrived.

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Hugh was taken by ambulance to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where he went through four hours of procedures on his eyes to ensure no glass was embedded in them.

He finally returned to his Marcus Road home, in Exmouth, at 8pm the same evening to the relief of his wife, Julie, and daughters Charlene, Ginny and Clara.

Reflecting on the ordeal, Hugh said: “I’m now feeling so grateful to have escaped.

“The worst thought for me is that the tree was right outside St John’s School, which usually has loads of young people and mums with babies. I would sooner it came down on my van than it had landed on a car with children in it.

“An average car would have been crushed.”

The 63-year-old said his van is a write-off and he believes the tree must have been rotting.

A spokeswoman for Fords said: “We wish him a speedy recovery and extend grateful thanks to Mr and Mrs Sommers, who looked after him whilst the emergency services were on their way. We’re so very relieved that Hugh didn’t suffer worse injuries. He was very lucky.”

Devon’s highways boss Councillor Stuart Hughes said the tree was the responsibility of a private landowner who commissioned contractors to remove it yesterday. He advised landowners or occupiers to regularly inspect and maintain any trees on their land.

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