1997 Thredbo landslide
The Thredbo landslide was a catastrophic landslide that occurred at the village and ski resort of Thredbo, New South Wales, Australia, on 30 July 1997. Two ski lodges were destroyed, and a total of 18 died.
Eighteen people died when the Bimbadeen and Carinya Lodges were destroyed at Thredbo Alpine Village at 11:35 pm on Wednesday, 30 July 1997. About 1,000 tonnes (1,100 tons) of liquefied earth and debris came down the slope.
As the unstable slope above the four-storey Carinya Lodge (owned by the Brindabella Ski Club) slipped downhill it hit the east wing of the Carinya Ski Lodge, tearing it in two. This initial landslide removed the support for the Alpine Way road which in turn collapsed, shearing the western half of Carinya from its foundations, allowing it to slide downhill and crossing a road before colliding with the Bimbadeen Ski Lodge at high speed, destroying both. Bimbadeen Staff Lodge was then hit, and it, too, collapsed. Witnesses reported hearing "a whoosh of air, a crack and a sound like a freight train rushing down the hill". John Cameron, a member of Brindabella Ski Club, who was alone in Carinya, along with 17 residents in Bimbadeen, lost their lives when the Lodges were destroyed.
At 11:37 pm, New South Wales Fire Brigades Communication Centre at Wollongong received emergency calls from the lodge at Thredbo. The local fire brigades had responded to reports of a 'small explosion' in the village. The first report to come through said that 100 people had been trapped.
Police arrived at 12:30 am, and evacuated the area. A regional disaster was declared, with Goulburn established as the disaster coordination centre for the region, with Sydney also notified. Medical staff were sent from Cooma to Thredbo, and also from Canberra to Jindabyne, which was a point for triage. Four specialists were flown from St George Hospital in Sydney to Thredbo. By 2:30 am, there were 100 professional services on the scene, and many volunteers such as from the Volunteer Rescue Association (VRA) of New South Wales, the State Emergency Service (SES) of New South Wales and the Australian Red Cross.
Thursday, 31 July
At 7:30 am, a forward medical command post was established, set up in a lodge located 50 metres (164 feet) from the site of the disaster.
Inspector Rory O'Driscoll of the NSW Police arrived at 8:15 am. At 10:00 am, geophysicists who had been flown to the area from Sydney declared that the site was safe enough to begin an excavation of the top layers, but was still very unstable with a now exposed underground stream flowing through the debris at the rate of 6,120 litres per hour. At 10:30am, a medical team inspected the disaster site. Many of the rescue workers themselves required treatment of minor injuries and the medical team realised they had to be prepared to treat exhaustion and hypothermia among the workers.
The first body was recovered at 4:20 pm. At 6:30 pm, a second specialist medical team arrived from the Royal North Shore Hospital. The State Emergency Service rotated 1350 rescue crew with about 250 on the site at any one time.
The slope of the hillside, which ranged from 20 to 40 degrees and the sub-zero temperatures made rescue efforts difficult. By midnight, 24 hours after the landslide had occurred, just one body had been discovered. During the night, the temperature at Thredbo dropped to -14 °C (7 °F).
Friday, 1 August
On 1 August, one more body was discovered in the early morning, and two more later during the day. A large slab of concrete which had been part of the Bimbadeen carpark made rescue efforts difficult. At 3:00 pm, doctors met the relatives of the missing.
During the day, several environmental issues were identified such as water and sewerage being cut off to the site, and some diesel fuel seeping into Thredbo Creek.
Rescue workers announced on Friday that there was little hope in finding any survivors. They had not completely given up hope, but Assistant Commissioner Ken Moroney told reporters; "I think at this stage the chances are quite remote."
At 5:37 am on 2 August, digging finished and rescue workers dropped sound equipment into a hole they had been digging, as was the standard procedure. This time, they detected some movement underneath the concrete slab.
Five minutes later rescue expert Steve Hurst, who used monitoring equipment to confirm the movement, yelled out "Rescue team working overhead, can anyone hear me?" to which a voice called back "I can hear you." When asked if he had sustained any injuries, the voice replied "No, but my feet are bloody cold!"
He was identified as ski instructor Stuart Diver. A pipe was then passed down the gap to provide warmer air which would increase his low body temperature. Another tube was put down which carried fluids from which he could have two sips every 20 minutes.
Steve Hirst explained to the press that Diver said he was uninjured, just extremely cold. Police Superintendent Charlie Sanderson explained to the press the difficulty of extracting Diver because they could not risk the concrete slab falling on top of him.
His position was two metres below the surface, beneath three concrete slabs. He was lying in water, wearing only a pair of underpants. Due to the risk of the overlaying concrete crushing Diver, rescuers began digging a 16 metre long tunnel from the eastern side of the slope. Five hours later, rescuers had removed enough of the rubble for them to be able to touch Diver. Paul Featherstone was the paramedic who kept talking to Diver for 11 hours until he was freed. When the site had to be evacuated each time the rubble shifted, Paul would stay below ground to keep Stuart talking and distract him.
Stuart Diver was pulled from the wreckage later in the evening. His first words were as he breathed the pure mountain air, "That sky's fantastic!" He had lain trapped for 65 hours in a small space between two concrete slabs beside the body of his wife, Sally, who had died by drowning as a concrete beam had pinned her in a depression that had filled with water overnight.
The rescue effort continued after Diver had been found, now that rescue workers had hope that there would be more survivors. They did not find any, and the last body was recovered on the following Thursday.
In 1998, three terraces with gabions and reinforced fill were constructed on the site and the Alpine Way was rebuilt with upslope retaining walls. The site along with a section of the Alpine Way is now monitored with 25 inclinometers, to detect any slope movement, and 12 piezometers, to keep track of water flow in the soil.
Brindabella Ski Club opened its new lodge on 5 June 2004.
The Coroner's report released on 29 June 2000 said that the landslide was caused by water from heavy rain, melting snow and a leaking water main. The landslide hit an eastern wing of one of the lodges first, which caused the nearby land to collapse onto lodges below. The State Government of New South Wales spent $40 million in out-of-court settlements with 91 businesses and individuals after the incident.
On 3 December 2004, the Supreme Court judgement blamed the leaking water main pipe and the Alpine Way, which was built on a road full of debris, as the cause of the disaster. Soil creep had caused the main to fracture, which had saturated the already unstable slope that supported the road above Carinya.
The Alpine Way had originally been built as a temporary construction access road by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority during the 1950s to access the Murray-1 and Murray-2 hydroelectric power stations constructed as part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Once the power stations were completed, the Authority upgraded the road with fill and planted vegetation on the downhill hillside before transferring ownership to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. No individual government authority had responsibility for maintenance while the National Parks and Wildlife Service's own funding was inadequate for maintenance of park roads not designed for the purpose to which they were later put. Following the disaster, responsibility for the Alpine Way and Kosciuszko Road was handed to the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA).
A memorial service was held in 2007 to mark the tenth anniversary of the events, which included a flare run down the mountain after sunset.
List of victims
The following are names of the victims:
- Dianne Elizabeth Ainsworth
- John Anthony Cameron
- Barry Achim Decker
- Sally Sophie Diver
- Dianne Lee Hoffman
- Werner Jecklin
- Oskar Waler Luhn
- Andrew Stuart McArthur
- Stephen Thomas Moss
- Wendy Anne O'Donohue
- Mary Frances Phillips
- Aino Senbruns
- Mariam Alice Sodergren
- Michael Lee Sodergren
- Steven Urosovic
- Colin John Warren
- David Glenn Watson
- Anthony John Weaver
- The Road Collapse of '97. Thredbo Alpine Village. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
- "Australia landslide toll rises, hopes fading". CNN. August 1, 1997.
- "Paul Featherstone". ICMI. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
- Hand, Derrick (29 June 2000). "Report of the inquest into the deaths arising from the Thredbo landslide". State of New South Wales.
- Wallace, Natasha (3 December 1997). "Thredbo disaster: at last, the facts". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- McMahon, Neil (30 July 2007). "Moving tribute to Thredbo dead". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- "History of major incidents – 1997 Thredbo landslide". Fire & Rescue NSW.
- "Thredbo landslide a disaster waiting to happen". The 7.30 Report. ABC. 29 June 2000.