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There was a collective drive to do the right thing: A first-hand account of helping at Whitehouse Asda crash scene

06:00 25 January 2016

A two car incident near the Whitehouse Asda in Ipswich

A two car incident near the Whitehouse Asda in Ipswich

How strangers came together to help at the scene of a crash in Ipswich on Saturday.

When two cars collided near the Whitehouse Asda store on Saturday morning East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star reporter Edmund Crosthwaite was one of half a dozen witnesses who rushed to the crash scene. Here he gives his account of how a group of people who had never met instinctively pulled together to try and help those involved.

With the wide availability of iPads, smartphones, computers and the like it seems interacting directly with strangers is something people try to avoid as much as possible. Finding a phone number for companies large or small perpetuates that – they seem to prefer email, something you can hide behind to avoid getting actively involved with people you don’t know.

Sometimes though that is exactly what you have to do. Like when a horrific car crash happens in front of you as you travel to work.

It’s one of those situations where you don’t know how you will react until it’s happened. It affects everyone differently. But on some level there is a collective knowledge that compels total strangers to come together and help people they have never met, but who they know to be in trouble.

For me, and I imagine several others at the scene, something just clicked which made us pull over and rush to the two cars which had collided. There was no thought of what we would find, no knowledge of how we would react once we were closer to the crash, just a collective drive that together we needed to do the right thing and try to lend a hand, whether there was actually anything productive we could do or not.

There seemed to be a common understanding of what was needed at that time; not someone to start barking out orders or take control of what was happening but for everyone to just dive in and do their best. It happened unspeakingly but immediately.

As we stood there holding the hands of those in the cars, leaning over bonnets and through windows trying to reassure them, it was horrible to see people in such a state of terror as they tried to comprehend what had just happened to them. Talking, about anything, seemed to be the best solution for everyone: What’s your name? Where were you going? Where are you from? Something to take their mind, and yours, off what’s just happened.

While trying to stay calm, rational, logical as the situation unfolds is tough. Being asked to call someone’s family and explain it all is worse. It’s a case of going onto automatic pilot as a journalist; picking up the phone, giving out the facts, again trying to reassure.

Even hours after it’s still quite hard to work out what you’ve been involved in, like a sense of having held your breath for hours. Whether it’s been very emotional or you’ve tried to block it all out and remain emotionless, talking about it, to friends, family, colleagues, certainly helps, even recounting it three, four, more times.

There’s no doubt the collective action of the dozen or so people who were first on the scene, some fire aiders, an off duty paramedic, ordinary motorists, made the situation more manageable for everyone involved. Of course within minutes the emergency services are on the scene and a well rehearsed routine is springing into action. But the actions of bystanders, non-professionals who just know instinctively that offering any assistance they can is always the right thing to do are continued reminders of an inbuilt human compassion to help others, no matter who or where they are.

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