HUNDREDS of people were involved in a mocked-up major incident inside a new multi-million pound tunnel.
With less than a month to go before the Hindhead tunnel finally opens on the A3, emergency services staged a realistic exercise deep underground.
Hampshire and Surrey firefighters and a fleet of ambulances had to deal with two pretend accidents in the southbound tunnel heading for Portsmouth.
Half a mile into the tunnel a lorry and a car had collided and burst into flames.
And in a second incident caused by the first, two cars had ploughed into a minibus.
Trapped between the two was a coach heading for Southsea.
Scores of volunteers played the victims in yesterday’s exercise.
Many of them played the parts of walking wounded who had to stagger through the tunnel to safety.
They had crossed into the incident-free northbound tunnel via one of the 16 escape passages every 100 yards along the mile-and-a-quarter tunnel.
Paul Arnold, the Highways Agency’s project director for the £371m project, said: ‘We have to prepare for every kind of incident.
‘Statistics show that the chances of an incident as serious as the one we staged yesterday occurring would happen about once in seven years.’
The twin, dual carriageway tunnels are the longest road tunnels in the United Kingdom.
There is no mobile phone signal in the tunnel but Mr Arnold stressed there is 100 per cent CCTV coverage.
He said: ‘This is triggered by an extremely complex series of sensor-activated radars all the way through the tunnel.
‘So if a vehicle stops for any reason the cameras are automatically turned to look at it.’
Simon Moore, the assistant chief fire officer for Surrey, who was monitoring the exercise, said: ‘Everything is controlled from the control room at the northern end of the tunnel. If there is a fire or accident in there no emergency services will go into the tunnel until they have been briefed by the control room.
‘Firefighters and ambulance crews need to be briefed by the control room about exactly what they face underground.’
The tunnel and the new dual carriageway either side of Hindhead are expected to open some time in the first fortnight of July. It is hoped to cut journey times between Portsmouth and London.