On Sunday morning, blowing snow led to dangerous whiteout conditions on Interstate 41 in Neenah, Wisconsin. Before long, there was little to no visibility. Unable to see the vehicle ahead of them, one car rear-ended another. This one crash started a massive chain reaction with car after car crashing into those already stopped, unable to see them until it was too late. Drivers who had already been hit didn’t want to flee their vehicles for fear that they would be struck by blinded approaching motorists. As a result, they had no choice but to sit there as the pileup surrounded them, according to CNN.
Before long, the pileup grew to include 131 vehicles. 911 dispatchers began receiving call after call from panicked drivers who were stranded in their vehicles. These calls were later released to the public as a way of showing how unsafe the conditions were. “Help, I’m on the highway, there’s a huge accident, a huge (inaudible)…I’m so scared,” a female caller is heard saying.
The dispatcher tries to calm her down while attempting to determine her exact location. The woman begins to tell her but is cut off by the sounds of loud crunching and screams as car after car crashes into her. The line goes dead following her panicked pleas for help.
Another call came in from a woman who said she and her husband had crashed into another vehicle due to the hazardous conditions. At first, the caller is calm. She explains the situation to the dispatcher and asks for help to be sent. She looks around to try to count how many vehicles are involved in the crash before her and her husband are hit from behind.
“It’s like the snow blowing right across the highway and everybody is like — it’s a pileup now. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. Everybody is just crashing into us because we’re like stopped on the side. My car’s just shaking, I don’t feel safe in the car — what do we do? Oh My God. Help us please.”
Despite the onslaught of vehicles from behind them, the dispatcher instructed the couple to remain calm, put on their seat belts and turn on their hazard lights. They were stuck there until rescue efforts arrived and began making their way from car to car to help the trapped drivers inside. 71 people were rushed to the hospital for injuries received at the scene and one man, 30-year-old science teacher Andrew Schefelker, was killed. The interstate didn’t reopen until the early hours of Monday morning.