Woman who lost leg recalls Alton Towers Smiler horror

Victoria Balch (centre) appearing the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC New
Victoria Balch (centre) appearing the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC New
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“I HAVEN’T rationalised it, I still can’t believe what happened”, said Vicky Balch, reflecting on the rollercoaster crash that changed her life forever.

The 20-year-old was sitting alongside friend Daniel Thorpe on the first row of The Smiler at Alton Towers when it came to a sudden halt at the top of a loop, and the pair were unknowingly left teetering on the brink of smashing straight into an empty carriage left on the track.

“I couldn’t see the empty carriage while we were waiting at the top,” said the student from Leyland. “We just thought it was a normal thing that happens because I heard that it does get closed down a few times and there was a few things wrong with it, but I still wanted to go on.

“We waited 20 minutes to half an hour and I started to have a really bad feeling and I didn’t want to carry on. I was screaming, ‘Get me off!’ I felt awful.”

She added: “When I saw the empty carriage I was like, ‘No, no, it doesn’t happen, it’s not there’, but then it happened.

“I remember it going into my knees and it hurt. The pain was immeasurable. It hurt so much that as I’m talking about it I can feel how it felt then and it was horrible.”

The first time the carriages collided Vicky was conscious, then as it continued to go back and forth she fainted with pain, to be woken by Daniel screaming her name.

She said: “When I was conscious I looked at Dan and saw he had a cut, turned around and there were a lot more injuries so I knew what was wrong with my legs. I didn’t want to look at that at that point, but I checked my face, checked my hands and was relieved they were okay.

“I realised that the top half of me was okay, but then I had to consider what had happened to the bottom half of me and I never thought I would walk again with my legs.

“My jeans were ripped and there was just blood pouring out and I could see it dripping the entire time.

“I could see bodily tissue in front of me, but didn’t know whose it was.”

The rescue operation to free Vicky, Daniel and teenage couple Leah Washington and Joe Pugh, took emergency crews over four hours because of the 25ft height and 45 degree angle of the ride.

Vicky said: “I don’t think the people on the ground realised how bad it was because they only sent one person over.

“I was screaming to tell them to look at what had happened to the four of us but I don’t think they wanted to look and they wanted to deal with it inside Alton Towers.”

She added: “At one point I was worried we might fall out. It was taking so long and if they had released us, we’d have just fallen.

“We were all leaning to one side and it was horrible because the harnesses we had on squeezed us tight and you couldn’t move and you were squeezed down.

“I was trying to wriggle just to relieve some of the pain.

“I didn’t think I would make it, I was in that much pain. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody.

“I didn’t think I could cope with the pain for as long as I did and even in hospital I was in that much pain I didn’t particularly want to be there.

“I wanted to faint again so I didn’t have to be there.”

As mum Karen was being escorted by police to the Royal Stoke University Hospital, doctors were preparing Vicky for emergency surgery, asking her to sign a consent form incase they had to amputate her leg.

“I remember thinking, ‘he has to say that but it won’t happen’”, said Vicky.

She added: “The question from day one was ‘you’re going to have to make the decision whether you amputate or not and I couldn’t make that decision, no-one could.

“But the medical staff were amazing. There was operation after operation and they thought they were going to be able to save it.

“In the beginning I was up walking with a frame and it was starting to look good and then all of a sudden I started sleeping a lot, for about three days in a row and I wasn’t feeling myself.

“I had my friends there but I just slept and couldn’t really speak to them. The surgeon was told something wasn’t right and he said if there was sign of any infection he would need me to sign to amputate.

“I said yes because at that point I couldn’t do anything for myself and it was horrible.”

When she came round from the operation, her mum and a nurse became teary-eyed, setting Vicky off.

She said: “Then I thought ‘why am I upset?’ It was a relief not to have it there because eventually I will be able to walk again with a prosthetic.”

Vicky has been receiving physiotherapy at the Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre in Preston.

She has now progressed onto crutches, having previously used a wheelchair, and has recently been provided with her own prosthetic with which she can begin learning to walk again.

“It’s weird having something on the end of it”, she said.

“I have to concentrate, learning to walk again. You have to think about things to do with your hip and move in a way when you’ve normally never had to think about it.

“You don’t control it and you can’t feel the bottom of it, so it’s just weird.”

She added: “It’s very challenging. When I don’t know how to do something it winds me up so much.

“Someone asked me to walk backwards and I said ‘how do I do that? I can’t do that’, and that winds me up.”

Vicky, who has deferred her place at the University of Derby, said she is determined fight to walk and drive again and despite the difficulties and pain, had vowed not to let any of her supporters down.

She said: “Sat there not knowing if I was going to make it or not was difficult, being in hospital and having operation after operation was difficult, and being led in bed in pain was hard, but because of the support I’ve had I’ve been able to get through it.”

Alton Towers was closed for five days after the accident on June 2, and lawyers have said the four serious injured victims could receive millions of pounds in compensation.