A 23-year-old trucker was trapped in the cab of his overturned lorry for three hours as frantic efforts were made to dig him out.
Lee Robbins is recovering after being airlifted to hospital with serious injuries after a horror crash on the A371 between Shepton Mallet and Castle Cary on Thursday.
The alarm was raised by motorists who stopped to help after the huge cement mixer, full of wet concrete, toppled over near the corner of the main road and the Bruton turn-off at Wyke Lane. The accident happened just before 1.30pm.
Lee, from Yeovil was trapped upside down in his cab, deep in a ditch for more than three hours as emergency crews and work colleagues fought to dig through the mountain of earth and the cement set around his cab.
As emergency crews fought to reach him, Lee's workmates at Andrew Hopkins Concrete Ltd at the nearby Evercreech Junction Industrial Estate brought in a crane to raise the lorry clear of the ditch.
Fire crews from Castle Cary and Shepton Mallet also used cutting equipment to release him.
Two air ambulances were also called to the scene.
The Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR) from Exeter was also mobilised and helped paramedics reach Lee to administer care and pain killing injections as his rescuers fought to free him.
He was airlifted to Frenchay Hospital were he is now off the critical list and his latest condition at the time of going to press is said to be stable and improving.
Police sealed off the A371 between Shepton Mallet and Castle Cary for several hours as the rescue operation continued. A Shepton Mallet couple who were travelling directly behind the cement mixer later spoke of their horror as they saw the accident unfolding before their eyes.
The woman, who did not want to be named, said: "As we came up to the Bruton turning we could see the lorry was turning over. It went upside down and landed in the ditch. It all looked so unreal – but it was real. We stopped the car and ran to help and other people did too. But the cab was embedded upside down deep in the ditch and there was nothing we could do. We could hear him screaming and crying for help – but we could not get to him. He was just so deeply embedded. It was the most absolutely horrific thing to witness.
"It was like it was happening in slow motion – there was not a loud bang, just a terrific thud as it landed upside down.
"The poor driver was in such distress and was screaming and obviously in great pain but we just could not get to him. It was just so horrendous. Everyone was on their phones calling for help. An ambulance car arrived first and then an air ambulance was there very quickly too, then the fire brigade and the police and another air ambulance. But no-one could do anything as they could not get to him as he was trapped in the cab upside down right down in the ditch."
The situation was worsened as the mixer's concrete load was setting, adding more weight onto the driver's cab.
The woman said she and her husband finally left as there was nothing they could do to help. "We went to a garden centre and had a cup of coffee and we just sat there in shock and silence – we could not believe what had happened."
Lee's boss Andrew Hopkins said he and his staff were all very relieved Lee was on the mend. Many of them had been to see him in hospital. In July the driver of another of the company's cement mixer vehicles had a lucky escape from serious injury when his vehicle overturned on a sharp bend on the A37 near Lydford.
Mr Hopkins said: "It was two different drivers and two different vehicles. The other driver is back at work and we hope Lee will be out of hospital and back with us soon."
See page 50 for more pictures and a police appeal for witnesses.