t was in the first hour of the morning of Thursday 31/7/97 in the Australian Alpine ski resort of Thredbo. The village was quiet except for a few people wandering home after a hard night of apres-skiing. Suddenly their laughter was drowned out by a roar likened to ten express trains passing through a station at one time. When the rumbling had died away it was evident under the clear sky what had happened - part of the hillside below the Alpine roadway above the village had slipped and the 100 ton plus slide had slipped into 2 ski lodges, Carinya with 1 inhabitant and Bimbadeen with 18 residents, only 1 of the entombed people was to survive the ordeal.
When the sun rose emergency crews were assessing the best way to rescue any survivors of the tragedy but immense difficulties lay ahead - the danger of a further land slide, snow or rain to loosen the terrain, the inability to use heavy equipment for fear of crushing trapped people and also the slope of the terrain making use of such machinery nigh impossible. Also, a huge concrete slab, part of a car park, lay on top of the tangled mess of rubble.
Some 53 hours later at 5.37 a.m. Saturday, 2nd August a precise movement measuring device detected a muffled movement. Steve Hirst, from the N.S.W. Fire Brigade called out and was answered by "I can hear you" - and so a miracle came to be.
It took nearly 12 hours - at 5.17 p.m. for rescuers to raise 27 year old Stuart Diver from the darkness of his hellhole to the fading winter light and the descending nightfall over the pristine village that had been home to the ski rescue patrol member and his wife, Sally. Stuart had held Sally by the hand when a surge of water had torn her from his grip and drowned her. He had been in that hellhole for 65 hours with this knowledge and an incredible willpower to survive and tell his tale. And survive he did.
Fingers are being pointed and blame apportioned but all this will come to light when an inquiry starts in April 1998.
Besides Stuart Diver and those who perished the real heroes are the members of the following organisations who unselfishly and tirelessly gave their all in this tragedy:
NSW State Emergency Services
NSW Ambulance Service
NSW Fire Brigade
Salvation Army - God bless the Salvos!
NSW Police Force
Emergency Service ACT
Victorian Fire & Ambulance
Queensland Fire & Rescue
ACT Fire Brigade
And especially the people of Thredbo!