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Australian History

On This Day In Australia: In 1997, the Thredbo landslide killed 18 people


Lone survivor Stuart Diver is carried to safety

On 30 July 1997, in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, the four-storey Carinya ski lodge was hit by a landslide coming from the Alpine Way road. The building was dislodged by the fast-moving sludge and slid downhill towards the Bimbadeen lodge. The impact destroyed both structures and killed 18 people.

19 people were residing in the two lodges at the time of the accident; one man was in the Carinya lodge and 17 others in Bimbadeen lodge. They all became trapped underneath debris.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, first responder Sashi Kumar said he and his team of paramedics could hear voices and phones ringing underneath the rubble when they arrived at the scene.

However, as they had to wait for engineers and specialists to assess the danger of entering the concrete mess, there wasn’t much they could do.

Who Were The Victims?

It took nine days in total for rescuers to retrieve all 18 people killed in the accident. 

The victims consisted of:

  • Waitress Mary Frances Phillips
  • Ski instructors Michael and Mariam Sodergren
  • Ski slope manager Werner Jecklin
  • Chairlift maintenance crew Oskar Luhn and his partner Aino Senbruns
  • Building maintenance crew Andrew McArthur
  • Caterer Steve Moss
  • Marketing manager Wendy O’Donohue
  • Front desk officer Steven Urosovic
  • Accountant Barry Decker
  • Property manager Colin Warren
  • Housekeepers Dianne Hoffman and Dianne Ainsworth
  • Carpenter John Cameron
  • Bistro manager David Glenn Watson
  • Ski patrolman Anthony Weaver
  • Sally Diver, wife to Stuart Diver the sole survivor of the disaster.

The Only Thredbo Survivor

Three days after the landslide, Firefighter Stephen Hirst heard movement below ground at 5:37 am. As he called down into the tangle of debris to ask if anybody could hear him, a weak voice answered, “yes, I can hear you”. It was ski instructor Stuart Diver, who had gotten trapped underneath concrete slabs next to his wife, Sally. 

Stuart was surrounded by freezing mud and water, but he was able to stay alive despite suffering hypothermia. Tragically, Stuard Diver’s wife was not so lucky – pinned underneath a beam, Sally was unable to move as water rushed around her, causing her to drown.

Stuart’s rescue took 12 hours and dozens of people to pull him out of the mess. Paramedic Paul Featherstone is credited as the man who not only kept Stuart alive, but also helped him to remain calm throughout the rescue operation.Getty

Heroes’ Mountain

One of the most iconic images of the Thredbo disaster was that of Stuart Diver emerging from the rubble. In 2001, a TV drama about Stuart’s rescue called Heroes’ Mountain was released. The film tells Stuart’s story of survival, as well as his journey coping with the aftermath of the incident.SaveSonya Heaney, author with HarperCollins. sonyaheaney.comPublished bySonya Heaney Historical Fiction Author

What Caused The Thredbo Landslide?

The landslide was caused by a combination of a leaking water main and problems with the construction of the Alpine Way road, which was built atop uncompacted fill. The water main filled a part of the embankment, turning it into a kind of loose sludge that eventually gave way and slid down towards the Carinya lodge.

What Did We Learn From The Tragedy?

The landslide was a horrible tragedy and a great loss to all the friends and family of the victims. It also brought a lot of uncertainty to the future and livelihood of the residents and workers of Thredbo in the subsequent years. However, there were also very important lessons learned from the incident. 

Telling Australian Geographic, Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins said that emergency response in has since been “a lot more sophisticated in terms of the equipment and expertise, and it’s a lot better coordinated in terms of using engineers, doctors, paramedics and hazardous materials specialists.SaveImage result for thredbo landslideKarenNatural Disasters

Thredbo Today – Is It Safe?

There have been no landslides in the area since the 1997 Thredbo landslide. Maps of the mountain are readily available on the resort’s website, as well as access to all of Thredbo’s cams which allow visitors to monitor snowfall and weather conditions in real-time.

There have been some accidents in the area in recent years, such as falls and avalanches, but this is typical of any skiing destination where visitors are exposed to extreme weather and terrain.

Source: WHO Magazine

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

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