Hero honoured for pulling crash victim from blazing car

Tony Higham  Picture: Malcolm Wells (142863-1529c)
Tony Higham Picture: Malcolm Wells (142863-1529c)
The Highfield Campus at the University of Southampton, which is home to the George Thomas Building. Picture: Geograph

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HE risked his life to pull a man from the wreckage of a car moments before it went up in flames.

And now Tony Higham, a retired Royal Navy officer, has won a bravery award from the Royal Humane Society for his incredible act of courage.

The pensioner put his navy firefighting training to good use as he negotiated his way through a wall of smoke and dragged driver John Scanlan from the mangled wreck following a head-on collision on a pitch-black rural road.

Receiving the award yesterday at police headquarters in Hamble, the 67-year-old, from Hambledon, said: ‘It’s very humbling.

‘I think anybody else in a similar position would have done the same.

‘Having spent 38 years in the navy, one is trained to cope with this.

‘I have been in situations where things have caught fire on ships.

‘The whole cliché of training kicks in and you crack on with it.’

The collision happened at about 6.30pm at Morestead, near Winchester.

Tony, a retired commander, and his wife Linda Higham were driving back from Bristol when they were confronted with the horrific crash scene.

One of the cars was on fire and the driver had managed to clamber out, while the other car alongside it – just 4ft away and resting against an embankment – had Mr Scanlan trapped inside.

The only way to get into the car was through the back door on the driver’s side.

Mr Higham said: ‘I went to see what was going on. My wife said “be careful”.

‘When I got out towards the cars I could see there had been a head-on collision.

‘There were flames going up 20ft high and explosions.

‘The problem was the driver’s door was crumpled in the collision.

‘It was getting hot and the flames were getting bigger.

‘The trees were catching fire above us and the tyres were exploding.’

Tony and another member of the public frantically tried to pull semi-conscious Mr Scanlan from the wreckage, but he would not budge.

Tony said: ‘His legs were trapped by the pedals.

‘We got hold of the car and tried to drag it towards us so we could get into the rear driver’s side door.

‘We got hold of him physically and we were pulling him like fury.

‘At this stage I could feel my bottom was getting really hot from the fire.

‘One massive heave and he was screaming in pain and we managed to slide him out.’

The firefighters arrived to put the blaze out and Mr Higham had to explain that the injured party was already out of the car.

Tony said he acted instinctively, but there was always an element of fear throughout the rescue.

‘I kept glancing over my shoulder as I heard the huge bangs,’ said Tony, who is well-known for having co-ordinated the rescue efforts last year when Hambledon was swamped by a major flood.

‘My fear was that the petrol tank was going to explode.

‘With the explosions my heart missed a beat.

‘But I think it drove me harder to get this bloke out.’

Mr Scanlan, from Bishop’s Waltham, who was 49 at the time of the crash in November 2013, spent 10 days in hospital and received treatment for a ruptured spleen and broken hand.

He was not at the ceremony yesterday, but his family have sent a letter to Tony to thank him for his efforts.

Tony said Linda breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her husband return in one piece from the cloud of smoke and flames.

‘She was in the car and we had just got a puppy,’ said Tony.

‘She couldn’t really see what was going on as I vanished into a wall of smoke.’