When Macklin's Austin-Healey finally came out of its spin, it veered straight at the Mercedes pit, sending the 300-pound Neubauer scrambling for his life. He ended up in the middle of the racetrack. A gendarme stationed near the Mercedes pit was hit when the car struck the pit wall, after which it bounded back onto and across the track. Neubauer, who was later credited with trying to signal the oncoming race cars of the danger, was in fact unable to escape his predicament and stood helplessly in the middle of the track waving his fedora until he could lumber off to safety.
The Austin-Healey finally thudded to a halt against the earthen embankment on the grandstand side of the circuit, and Macklin leaped out without a scratch. As soon as he saw the wreckage from Levegh's Mercedes, Macklin began running to it. "When I saw the car burning on the barrier," he recalls, "I said to myself, 'Thank Christ it didn't go into the crowd.' " Macklin was in grim error; what he saw was only a portion of the shattered car.
With smoke and debris spewing forth from Levegh's car and Macklin's mangled Austin-Healey still careening about like a deadly pinball, it was up to Fangio to drive through safely. "After I had passed through the crashing cars without touching anything or anyone," the Argentine said years later, "I started to tremble and shake. For at that moment I had been waiting for the blow, holding strongly to the steering wheel awaiting the blow."
Fangio continued driving for three more laps (the race was never for a moment stopped, a decision made to prevent mass panic) before turning the car over to Moss. When Fangio stepped out of the car he crossed himself, then told Neubauer that Levegh had signaled to him of the trouble that lay ahead when he raised his hand. "Levegh warned me," Fangio told Neubauer. "He was about to be killed, but still he saved my life." Neubauer later testified at the inquiry that he doubted Levegh would have had time to carry out such a noble act. "The movement that Levegh made was not a special sign," he said, "but an act of helplessness in the face of a danger impossible to avoid."
It was six minutes before the surviving cars could complete another lap around the circuit, and it was not until then that anyone in the stunned crowd could be certain that the ruined silver car was Levegh's. When Denise Levegh realized that it was her husband's car that was in flames on the other side of the track, she began to scream, "Take him out of there. You're not going to let him burn!" As the fire grew hotter, the Mercedes began to burn white, a result of its bodywork being made of a magnesium alloy. Later there would be suspicions whispered by the French that the magnesium mixture, like one which had been used as a flash powder in the early days of photography, had been responsible for the intensity of the fire.
In fact, Levegh was already dead and his corpse—untouched by the flames—lay yards away from the pyre being fed by his car. He had been partly decapitated by the force of the explosion.
Behind the pit wall. Hawthorn was now out of his car and weeping uncontrollably. "When Mike got out of his car he had already had a nerve-racking two or three hours with Fangio," says Duncan Hamilton, a teammate of Hawthorn's who had won Le Mans for Jaguar in 1953. "Even under normal circumstances he would have been wound up—and there were people lying about dead, remember. I told him he wasn't involved in the crash and that he had to press on, that he'd had a jolly nasty fright and he'd gotten away with it."
But Hawthorn was not so easily soothed. Macklin saw him later that night. "Donald Healey said we should go and celebrate getting out of a mess like that," Macklin recalls. "We were having champagne when a mechanic from Jaguar came in and said that Mike was in a terrible state and asked me if I would come to their pit and calm him down. I wasn't very pleased with Hawthorn because he nearly killed me, and I told the mechanic I would be more likely to pop him on the nose than calm him down.
"A few minutes later Mike came through the pit door, tears streaming down his face, and he tottered over to where we were sitting. 'Lance, I'm terribly sorry,' he said. 'I feel terrible. I've caused all these deaths. I'll never drive a car again.' Donald [Healey] got up from where he was sitting and said, 'Come on, Mike, pull yourself together.' Just then a man named Les Leston came into where we were sitting and said, 'Jesus, it looks like a butcher shop out there.' I told him we didn't need people going around saying things like that, but he kept right on. That was the first indication I had that the accident was as bad as it was."
All through the night the race roared on. The wounded were removed in a hastily recruited armada of ambulances. The bodies of the dead were laid out anywhere space could be found. Hamilton recalls going for a massage between shifts at the wheel of his D-type Jaguar. He lay down on the masseur's table in one of the infield tents and discovered that there were corpses covered by sheets on the floor beneath him. Several troops of French Boy Scouts formed circles around the tents where most of the bodies were taken because authorities feared that the crowd might try to rush the makeshift morgues.