PITTSFIELD — Two Maine Central Institute students miraculously survived a crash Saturday night that caused their car to flip, end over front, three times, police said.

Pittsfield Police Officer Jeff Vanadestine said when he arrived on scene shortly before 7 p.m., he thought the driver and passenger, both 17, were dead.

The demolished red car lay on its roof in a field off Somerset Avenue, with debris scattered for 60 yards. The motor was cracked in two. The car’s battery had been tossed out. The bumpers were in pieces.

“They’re very, very lucky,” Vanadestine said. “The vehicle just looks like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

The two male students, both seniors at MCI, were each flown in separate LifeFlight helicopters to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where they were both listed in fair condition on 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 he broke no bones.

“I believe what saved them was their seat belts,” Vanadestine said. “The seat belts saved their lives, hands down.”

The 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier, owned by Valente’s father, Steven, had been traveling south when it appears it veered into the oncoming lane, steered back into its lane and then hit a ditch, causing it to fly into the air and flip over at least three times, Vanadestine said.

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

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

About 15 rescue personnel responded, in addition to witnesses. Vanadestine said the man who called 911 was about 300 yards away, across the road, when he heard squealing. When the man turned around, the car was airborne.

Valente and Watanabe were in and out of consciousness. But rescue workers from Pittsfield and Detroit fire department, Sebasticook Valley Health Ambulance Service and Pittsfield police officers worked for about 20 minutes before managing to slide them out through a window, Vanadestine said.

The LifeFlight helicopters landed in the grass field, owned by Pete Vigue.

Vanadestine said it’s “unbelievable” the two not only survived the accident but were reported in fair condition the following day.

“Seat belts absolutely save lives,” he emphasized.

Approximately half a mile of the road, from Crawford Road to Spring Road, was closed for about two hours as police reconstructed the crash.

Some workers remained on scene a total of five hours.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

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