A Mazda SUV was travelling eastbound on the highway near Masstown at approximately 5:45 a.m. when it collided with two horses that had been running loose, said RCMP Staff Sgt. Dean Warr.
“We had a complaint received of some horses reported loose on a highway and while our members were on route to follow up on this complaint, a report was received of a collision involving the horses and a vehicle,” he said.
Two passing motorists stopped at the scene of the crash and pulled the trapped driver from the fiery wreckage moments before the SUV exploded.
“I can tell you it’s completely demolished. Upon impact of hitting the horses, the vehicle drove off the roadway into the woods. The motor, the engine became engulfed in flames," said Colchester County RCMP Const. Dal Hutchinson.
"It was a panic situation where you had this person trapped in the vehicle so these two gentlemen got the person out of the vehicle and that’s when it exploded, so it’s completely destroyed."
At that point the passenger was already out of the car.
Colchester County RCMP, RCMP Northern Traffic Services, the provincial Department of Transportation, the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade and EHS responded to the scene of the crash, located about 100 kilometres north of Halifax.
The driver was seriously injured. The passenger was also injured. Both were taken to the Colchester East Hants Health Centre for treatment.
Both horses are dead, said Warr. One was miniature and the other was a full-sized horse. A third horse — also full-sized — was located safe near the scene in a field and has since been returned to its owner.
The owner told CBC News her family is in shock. She said they didn't know the horses had escaped until RCMP knocked on their door Saturday morning. The horses belonged to the family's 13-year-old daughter, who is devastated by the loss.
The owner said the family hopes the car crash victims will be OK.
CBC News was told the horses had never escaped before and the owner suspected the animals had fiddled with the gate until it opened. She said she's not sure why the horses ran.
An RCMP collision reconstructionist was called to assist in the investigation. Highway 104, between Exits 11 and 12, was closed for several hours with traffic rerouted to Highway 4.
Police are asking the person who assisted in helping the trapped driver out of the wreckage to call Colchester County RCMP.
"These two men helped to save a life today. Prior to the vehicle exploding, these two gentlemen removed the driver from the vehicle and as they were getting away from the vehicle and climbing out of the ditch with the injured person, the vehicle exploded," said Hutchinson.
"We're hoping that this person may hear it in the media and will contact us because we want to first of all thank them and just get some information from them as well."