PICTURES: Fuel tanker crash shuts down A38 for 24 hours
AN INVESTIGATION is to be launched after a petrol tanker laden with 47,000 litres of fuel broke free and ran backwards down a busy commuter road, say police.
Miraculously, no-one was hurt when the tanker, which had broken down and was being towed towards Saltash, plunged down a steep hill on the A38 near Tideford in South East Cornwall.
It then jack-knifed and turned over, sending up to 4,000 litres of unleaded petrol cascading down the road.
Devon and Cornwall Police spokesman Alan Mobbs said: "The consequences of this incident could have been far worse, and we are extremely fortunate that no-one was injured or killed.
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"A motorcyclist could have been travelling behind, and if the accident had happened a mile sooner, the tanker could have crashed into houses.
"The incident has caused major disruption, due to the type of vehicle involved and the fact that it spilled a hazardous substance onto the road."
The A38 was closed immediately following the incident around 7pm on Thursday night, with emergency services working through the night to clear up the mess, recover the tanker and restore the road surface.
Steve Benney, Cornwall fire and rescue service's incident manager, said the vehicle had been loaded with unleaded and diesel fuel, but only petrol had been spilt.
Amid fears that the fuel could pollute the River Tiddy, which leads into the rivers Lynher and Tamar and is a spawning ground for salmon and sea trout, tonnes of sand were used to mop up much of the petrol.
Firefighters also managed to divert some of the spill onto nearby waste ground.
And Mr Benney said heavy overnight rain would help to disperse the fuel, with no reports of fish kills from Environment Agency officials at the scene.
He said some of the 31 fire crews drawn from all over the county had sprayed the tanker with foam because of a small risk of explosion.
The remaining fuel was transferred to another tanker and taken away, while the crashed tanker was recovered with the aid of two mobile cranes.
Cornwall Highways workers took away the contaminated sand, while others stripped off the fuel-soaked road surface.
Police say disruption on a major trunk road was inevitable, but thanked members of the public for their patience.
The road was partially re-opened at 3.30pm yesterday for rush-hour traffic, but was closed again last night for re-surfacing.
Peter Lander, managing director of Suckling Transport, a national company which owns the tanker, told The Herald: "Our vehicle had broken down and was being towed towards Saltash by a local recovery company.
"It became detached but we don't know why.
"No third party was involved and no-one was hurt.
"A full investigation will be launched on Monday by the HSE.
"Our company has a very good safety record, but this unfortunate incident was outside our control."
No-one from the Health and Safety Executive was available to comment at the time of going to press.
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