Seven dead in horrific accidents following “Operation Natal Tranquilo”

The ‘success’ of police operation “Natal Tranquilo” – which saw only one death in road traffic accidents between December 23 to 26 – has been largely obliterated by the carnage that followed: seven deaths in a horrific 24-hour period.

The first saw 19-year-old biker João Pereira die outside the school where he was a pupil on Tuesday evening. His pillion passenger, 17-year-old Daniel Barra has been described as in a “very serious condition” in hospital after the accident in Terrugem (Sintra) which involved another motorcycle and two cars.

Two hours later, on the IC1 – a highway dubbed ‘the road of blood and death’ – three young friends died in an accident on one of the most notorious stretches between Alcácer do Sal and Grândola, where the sides of the road are treacherous.

What made this tragedy even more poignant is that the GNR agent father of one of the boys was part of a patrol that made it first to the scene.

The man had no idea his son was involved until he saw the 20-year-old’s wrecked car.

Rafael Vasconcelos and one of his passenger’s Bernardo Rodrigues were dead at the scene. Both had been projected from Vasconcelos’ Honda after it hit a large eucalyptus tree.

According to tabloid Correio da Manhã, Vasconcelos’ car left the road to avoid hitting a car ahead as it made a right-hand turn.

The Honda “entered an area of dirt track” and Vasconcelos is believed to have “lost control”, slamming into the tree at high speed, said the paper.

Police meantime removed the young man’s distraught father from the scene and brought in psychological support.

With locals and police in shock, the GNR’s district commander Paulo Manuel visited Vasconcelos’ family later in the day to give his personal condolences.

But the deaths continued – all of them bizarrely involving trees.

On the IC2 between Rio Maior and Abrigada a 48-year-old baker and father-of-one died after his delivery van skidded out of control, hitting a eucalyptus tree on a bend near Espinhaço de Cão.

And on the EN18 between Nisa and Portalegre two friends described as “deciding to take a drive” at 2am “collided violently” with a large cork tree.

“The violence of the impact caused a fire in the car” leading to both men being “carbonised”, CM added.

Nisa fire chief João Caritas told reporters that “removing the debris and clearing up the road took close to five hours”.

Police are also unsure of what caused the crash, as there was no sign of the car having been forced to brake, “or any other signal that could indicate” why driver Nuno Caldeira ran into the tree.

As victims’ bodies are being autopsied and investigations continue, data from road safety authority ANSR has revealed that “since the beginning of the year 432 people have died on Portuguese roads”. This figure has been boosted by a further eight fatalities since December 21, adds CM, with the year still having three significant days to run.

CM stresses that ANSR data does not include people who died within 30 days of being injured in road traffic accidents. This year, that figure looks like exceeding the 2015 tally by 20%, says the paper.

In total, accidents this year have come to 123,828, which exceed 2015’s total by 4,463.

A final ‘road traffic accident round-up’ will come after New Year.

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