U.S. military vehicles involved in pile-ups on slick German roads
WüRZBURG, Germany – Traffic snarled into a snowy mess around Würzburg on Monday as three wrecks — some of them involving U.S. Army vehicles traveling in a convoy — blocked traffic for most of the day on the heavily traveled autobahn A3.
The pile-ups involved dozens of vehicles, but German police said no one was killed. Seven people suffered minor injuries, said Margit Endres, the German police commissioner for the Dettelbach area.
The crashes also have caused considerable confusion among Army officials. Spokesmen for U.S. Army Europe, 1st Infantry Division, 1st Armored Division and 3rd Corps Support Command all denied knowledge of any Army vehicles being involved in the accidents.
V Corps spokeswoman Hilde Patton linked a Humvee from the Darmstadt-based 22nd Signal Brigade en route to the Grafenwöhr training area to one of the accidents but said she knew nothing of the wrecks.
In the first crash, a German semi-trailer rear-ended an eastbound Army truck and trailer at 12:45 a.m. as it approached the Dettelbach bridge about 10 miles east of Würzburg, Endres said.
“The U.S. truck was driving very slowly,” she said. “The German truck driver didn’t see him and hit him from behind.”
The German truck hit the median and rolled over, spilling diesel fuel and 10 tons of auto parts across the road. The driver was trapped in the cab but was freed by other truck drivers at the scene and suffered only minor injuries, Endres said.
About three miles west of that crash site, another German truck — this one carrying a load of diesel fuel — jackknifed and flipped on its side near the junction of the A3 and A7 autobahns about 8 a.m. as it tried to avoid another truck that had skidded off the road. Police diverted all traffic off the highway, but still it backed up for another five miles, Endres said.
Patton said the truck that was awaiting assistance was the 22nd Signal Brigade Humvee, which was traveling in a convoy to Grafenwöhr. She said the driver was uninjured and later proceeded to the training area, site of the large Victory Scrimmage exercise currently under way.
An Army Humvee apparently started a chain-reaction accident around 11 a.m. in the third and biggest of the crashes. The Humvee, carrying a security canopy and pulling a trailer, skidded on the slick highway as it tried to overtake two cars in the eastbound lanes near the downtown Würzburg exit, Endres said.
A large German truck hit the Humvee from behind, causing a pile-up that eventually totaled 39 cars, including at least one other Humvee.
The road was strewn with smashed cars, and dozens of fire trucks and ambulances sped to the scene. Police described it as one of the area’s biggest accidents of all time, but they said air bags likely saved many lives. One German driver had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital, six other drivers — none of them Americans — suffered minor injuries.
Endres said the crash backed up traffic for about 14 miles. It took four hours to clear. Army officials, however, could not identify the unit the two vehicles were attached to, nor their origin or destination.
Endres said U.S. vehicles often are linked to wintertime accidents, though she said Monday’s treacherous conditions caused problems for everyone.
“I think these happened because there was snow,” she said.
Stars and Stripes staffer Peter Jaeger contributed to this report.