PITTSFIELD – Two Maine Central Institute students survived a crash Saturday night in which their car flipped end-over-end three times, police said.

Pittsfield police Officer Jeff Vanadestine said that when he arrived at the scene shortly before 7 p.m., he thought the driver and passenger were dead. The demolished red car lay on its roof in a field off Somerset Avenue, with debris scattered for 60 yards.

The two male students, both 17 and seniors at MCI, were flown in separate LifeFlight helicopters to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where they were both listed in fair condition Sunday.

The passenger, Rikito Watanabe, an exchange student from Japan, suffered broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, a concussion and internal injuries, Vanadestine said. The driver, Zachary Valente of Pittsfield, sustained severe head trauma and bruises, but broke no bones.

“The seat belts saved their lives, hands down,” Vanadestine said.

The 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier, owned by Valente’s father, Steven, was traveling south when it appeared to have veered into the oncoming lane, re-entered its lane and then hit a ditch, causing it to fly into the air and flip over at least three times, Vanadestine said.

About 15 rescue personnel responded. After about 20 minutes, workers were able to slide Valente and Watanabe out of the car through a window, Vanadestine said.

The crash is still being reconstructed by the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, but it’s clear the car was going “well above” the 45 mph speed limit, Vanadestine said.

Driver inexperience may also have been a factor; Valente just earned his driver’s license in June, Vanadestine said. No alcohol was involved, he said.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Erin Rhoda can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

[email protected]