Hands gripped frantically on the steering-wheel, Rene Berrette fought to keep the ten-ton articulated lorry on the road as it screamed down a steep gradient outside the village of La Sielle on the French country road between Limoges and Brive.
Berrette was an experienced long-distance truck-driver but he had never encountered anything like this... The brake-pedal slopped uselessly under his foot and the engine roared hoarsely in low gear as the lorry swerved from side to side, threatening any minute to catapult off the road. He was out of control... nothing on the nearly-new vehicle worked. It was as though giant hands had grasped the wheel, forcing Berrette nearer and nearer the grass verge and the 50ft drop into fields below.
It was June 1991 and the world's most notorious piece of haunted road seemed all set to claim yet another victim. For over the previous ten years, nearly 30 vehicles had inexplicably run out of control on that hill leading into La Sielle for no apparent human or mechanical reason. Some drivers had lived to tell the tale but others hadn't and Rene Berrette wondered whether he was about to join them.
The day had started off like any other for the level-headed father of three. He had left his depot at Limoges bound for Toulouse with a cargo of frozen meat -a trip he did several times a month.
He always treated the hill into La Sielle with caution although it was only a slight curve and although he didn't seriously believe that a stretch of road could actually be cursed. But now it was happening to him. It was a nightmare and then, inexplicably it was all over ... after what seemed like an age, but which was in reality less than a minute, Berrette found he was back in control again.
The brakes responded perfectly to the pressure of his foot and the power-steering was once again in working order. Pale and shaking he pulled into a layby and for some minutes sat at the wheel head in his hands, desperately trying to recover his nerve — and think of some logical reason for what had happened. But he couldn't.
One thing was certain — he wasn't taking any more chances until the truck had been thoroughly checked. So he walked half a mile to the village and had the vehicle towed to a garage. After mechanics examined the truck and found nothing wrong, Rene Berrette finally resumed his journey. But the next driver to encounter the malign influence of the haunted hill wasn't so lucky.
Pierre La Chaise, a 19-year-old university student, was riding a 500cc motorcycle at an estimated speed of 50 mph down the stretch of road when, as he recalled later, "It was as though someone had climbed on to the bike and was trying to steer it off the highway. I exerted all the strength I had but I couldn't even turn the handlebars and at the same time the machine started to go faster. I was out of control and I was terrified."
Seconds later the motor-cycle hit the kerb, throwing La Chaise on to the grass verge. He suffered concussion and a broken wrist. "Something took over the bike," he remembered. "I've no idea what it was."
Other motorists reported similar experiences but police investigations following accidents on the hill have never discovered mechanical or other defects which could explain the incidents. "Once, with friends, I drove down the haunted hill on the way back to La Havre after a French holiday. Not surprisingly I treated it with the deepest respect but nothing happened and there was nothing to differentiate the road from dozens of other hills on the route and it could be taken safely at 50, or faster, with safety."
And yet only a few weeks before, Gaston Palmer, a middle-aged engineer was driving his Citroen car down the same gradient when he suddenly felt, to his horror that all control had been taken out of his hands. In a statement to the police he said that the steering wheel had spun uselessly and the brakes refused to slow the car. "I was, luckily, alone in the car and I was convinced I was about to die. The car was completely out of control.
I had heard vaguely about some demon on the hill but it wasn't something I took seriously. I certainly do now! Apparently just as the car reached the edge of the road Palmer found that the controls were operating once more and he was able to wrenched the vehicle to safety. Once again the car was examined — and found to be in perfect mechanical condition. There was, said the experts, no reason why the controls should have suddenly malfunctioned.
Today it seems that the hoodoo of the haunted hill still exerts a malign influence. Last year a family saloon overturned killing the three occupants. No other vehicle was involved. When local authorities in the Dordogne district made an investigation into the alleged incidents,they came to no definite conclusion. As a spokesman explained: Until someone can prove anything to the contrary we have to accept these incidents as routine road accidents. But what the people living in the area of the haunted hill think is a very different matter...