DENTON — The driver of a tractor-trailer was airlifted to a Winston-Salem hospital Wednesday afternoon after his rig ran off N.C. 49 near N.C. 47, overturned and spilled thousands of gallons of diesel fuel.


Troopers set up an evacuation zone until detours were established by transportation officials, while Randolph County Emergency Management coordinated the hazardous materials response. The detour was for the southbound direction of the highway, with the road expected to reopen late Wednesday.


Trooper J.D. Barker with the N.C. Highway Patrol said Eric Keith Beck, 54, of Thomasville was southbound in an 18-wheeler on the four-lane highway between Gravel Hill Road and Conelson Road about 13.3 miles southwest of Asheboro when the truck ran off the road to the right at about 3:20 p.m. The rig traveled down an embankment, overturned in a stand of trees and came to rest on the driver’s side.


The top of the tank split open in the crash, Barker said, spilling most of the 7,500 gallons of diesel fuel on board.


Emergency personnel from Farmer Volunteer Fire Department and Ash-Rand Rescue Squad responded to the scene, where Beck was trapped in the cab of the truck. It took about 45 minutes for Ash-Rand volunteers to free the driver, according to Barker.


“The rescuers, they were literally feet away from that fuel spewing out,” he said. “A fireman with hose in hand stood by, ready to rock ‘n’ roll. It was pretty intense.”


Beck, who reported a mechanical failure of some sort occurred before the crash, was airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where he was in stable condition, Barker said.


Hazmat cleanup was expected to continue into the night. Fuel that did not spill will have to be offloaded to another tanker to haul away. “The sun will definitely be down for a couple of hours before they’re done with that,” Barker said.


Barker estimated total damage to the truck and trailer and the loss of fuel at $125,000.