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'Extremely grateful and lucky to be alive' after horror accident on A835 in Ross-shire – but could it have been avoided?

By Hector MacKenzie

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Tony sustained a terrible facial injury from the tree.
Tony sustained a terrible facial injury from the tree.

A MAN who suffered a horrendous injury in a freak accident on a major Ross-shire route has thanked the unsung heroes who sprang to his aid when a dream motorhome holiday turned into a nightmare.

And while Tony Rotchford (68) feels "extremely grateful and lucky to be alive" after a falling tree struck the motorhome he and wife Eileen (53) were travelling in, he believes the accident could have been prevented if roadside maintenance had been up to scratch.

The accident happened on the A835 near Garve as they were heading to Gairloch, an area they know and love.

Mr Rotchford, who was driving at the time of the September 14 accident, recalled: "We were travelling on our first day to start a 10-day break in the beautiful Highlands. Unfortunately, the tree fell onto and through our motorhome, causing extensive damage to the van and a horrendous facial injury to myself. My wife, thanks to whoever was looking after us at the point of impact, is totally uninjured and in my opinion a complete hero to me.

Ryan Huddlestone shared this drone image of the scene of the accident.
Ryan Huddlestone shared this drone image of the scene of the accident.

"Unfortunately, I was not so lucky and was knocked unconscious for roughly 30 seconds. I sat bolt upright due to my wife shouting my name three times. To her horror, the left side of my face had been torn off. My wife immediately – goodness knows were she got the strength – lifted my face back up and held it back on my head where it should have been.

"I suffered a terrible facial injury due to the tree falling, from which I am slowly recovering although the permanent scar that I will be left with is extremely unsightly and I feel sure will be difficult to live with."

He said he saw the tree slide down "what looked like a 3ft feet mound of earth and knew it was coming down on us", adding: "Luckily, I managed to swerve to the right, which saved my wife sustaining any injuries, thank God."

He went on: "A fantastic help for us both was the fact, that in the car behind us was a lady neurosurgeon from Edinburgh who was on holiday with her husband and baby. She rushed to help my wife in the aftermath of the accident. As well as that outstanding piece of luck, two cars behind the neurosurgeon was an Inverness patient transportation driver who had a two-way radio and was in touch with Accident and Emergency at Raigmore Hospital.

Eileen and Tony Rotchford before the accident.
Eileen and Tony Rotchford before the accident.

"All of these factors together, meant that the emergency department of the hospital were aware of what exactly to expect, injury-wise, and the personnel and equipment required . I remember the neurosurgeon asking me lots of questions to ascertain the extent of my head injuries. The ambulance journey to the hospital, was speedy and comfortable. The emergency room was excellent and light-hearted, thanks to the wonderful staff there.

"My stay in the hospital was very pleasant, and I would love to thank everyone who contributed to looking after me, especially the tea lady, who looked after me very well – I love my tea."

Despite the "devastating scar" on his face, he said: "Considering what happened, I am extremely grateful and lucky to be alive."

But he feels if the trees had been felled, the accident would have been avoided.

Mr Rotchford, who met his wife at the Grangemouth ASDA distribution centre they both worked at, described Highland hospitality as "second to none".

He was in the Army for 17 years, serving in the first Gulf War and two tours of Northern Ireland.

He is still taking painkillers and described the process his face knitting back together as like "lots of pins and needles and tiny electric shocks".

Tony was devastated by the accident.
Tony was devastated by the accident.

A BEAR spokesperson expressed sympathy for Mr Rotchford on learning of his injuries and wished him well for his recovery.

She said: “When the tree fell on the A835 in September, our team responded quickly to remove it and reopen the road safely, followed by an inspection of the trees in the area.

“Trees within the north-west trunk road boundary are managed by BEAR Scotland as part of our contract with Transport Scotland. We carry out weekly safety inspections on all our roads to identify defects that might be an immediate hazard to the travelling public, which are then repaired within a contract specified timescale.

"We also carry out more detailed inspections of the trees on the network every five years to assess their condition, identifying any that could pose a risk to the public and dealing with them as required. If incidents do occur due to poor weather, we have a robust process, prioritising safety, to clear debris and work with emergency services.”

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