By Dan Walton
A pair of friends from the valley serendipitously survived a violent automobile collision just days before Christmas.
Allen Wall and Tony Helmer, who are both in their 50s and have been friends for as long as they can remember were approaching each others vehicles around 9 p.m. on Friday, December 19th while travelling in opposite directions. Allen was driving northbound towards Radium Hot Springs on Highway 93/95 in the Dry Gulch area, and Tony was southbound on a parallel frontage road.
Allens trip was abruptly altered when he saw the headlights of an oncoming vehicle in his lane, ready to collide with him.
Avoiding the other car didnt come at a cheap price.
Allen swerved into the ditch, causing his Ford F150 truck which was carrying significant momentum to flip upside down onto its roof. Still in motion, the truck then rolled right-side up and launched out of the ditch and toward the frontage road. Allen was airborne.
I rolled upside down in the ditch, then hard to the left, down, and then (the truck) did a half barrel roll as it left, he explained.
Once in the air, his truck travelled about six metres, and was brought to a sudden stop by crashing into an oncoming car, the Volkswagon CC coincidentally being driven by Allens good friend Tony.
He saw that unfold in front of his eyes, said Allen.
According to Allen, Tony saw the trucks headlights while it was still in motion travelling toward him on its side, and initially thought that motorcycles were approaching him, which instantly struck him as odd since it was the middle of winter when motorcycles arent normally on the highways.
Time is an interesting thing. You can fall 100 feet in roughly two seconds, Allen said. In that timeframe, what the brain slows down as Oh no thats a second and a half.
Before the collision, Tony had anticipated that Allens vehicle would clear his own. But the rear tire of Allens truck anchored into the roof of Tonys car.
Im grateful for my friend Tony, said Allen. Whether he wanted to or not, he stopped my inertia.
Tony was able to get out of the car but Allen was trapped in his truck.
Right after, (Tony) creeps around the side of his car, said Allen, relaying their conversation. Small town, right: Hi Allen. Hi Tony. Are you okay? No, Im not.
The first responder was a Columbia Valley RCMP officer who happened to be travelling along the highway and arrived on the scene about a minute and a half after the crash, Allen said. Paramedics were on scene shortly after.
It made me realize in the aftermath; period of shock, the importance of the ambulance attendants, he said.
Allen referred to a paramedic, Sara, whose stable voice he remembers as the most consistent thing to focus on, which made it easier to bear the intensity of the extraction.
They cover a bag over your body so they can hack your roof off, while dealing with pain which was probably 9.5 out of 10, he said. Getting whipped around like a rag doll aint much fun.
But amid the discomfort, Allen said his sense of humour was still active.
I said to the emergency workers, This is a little extreme, guys. This is like a huge practice for you.
Before extraction could begin, emergency crews had to stabilize the awkwardly positioned vehicle with jacks. Once they were able to take Allen out of his truck, his bruised body had to be gently removed at a tricky angle.
The amazing thing is that you can go through that with no broken bones, Allen commented.
In addition to police and paramedics, emergency crews were on scene from Radium and Invermere Fire Departments.
Tony had only received minor injuries, but was concerned about the state of his vehicle. When Allen asked Tony how his car was moments after the collision, Tonys response was: Oh, its not good. Im in trouble. Its my wifes brand new car and I didnt ask to use it.
Two ironies were noticed after the fact. Allen was on his way home from a conversation at Tim Hortons, where he had been discussing the time when then-mayor of Calgary Ralph Klein was on his way to make a presentation about budget cuts, when he crashed, requiring paramedics to extract him from his vehicle. Tony had been travelling through Kootenay National Park before the collision, and had heard that an earlier accident had occurred about an hour before he was involved in the crash, and he had phoned his wife to tell her he was OK.
When you look at the bizarreness of how things unfold in your life, and how quick thoughts become things, Allen said. You can have a conversation happen in a coffee shop and then have the same thing happen that you were just talking about.
Allen expressed his gratefulness toward everyone involved in his rescue, from the first responders to the tow truck driver and hospital staff.
It makes you realize how important everybody is to this whole deal they deserve that recognition.
While Allen doesnt feel resentment, he was disappointed the oncoming vehicle forcing him into the ditch did not stop. No charges were laid.