Kempsey bus crash
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The Kempsey bus crash occurred in Australia on 22 December 1989 when two full Denning Landseer tourist coaches, each travelling at 100km/h, collided head-on on the Pacific Highway at Clybucca Flat, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) north of Kempsey, New South Wales. The collision killed both drivers instantly. The impact snapped seats from their anchor bolts. Seats and passengers were thrown about the vehicles with a terrific amount of force, which also trapped people and their luggage against the back of the bus. 35 people died and 41 were injured.
The force of the impact left a Sydney-bound coach, operated by McCafferty's Coaches, embedded in the front five rows of the cabin of the Brisbane-bound coach, operated by Parkes-based Trans City. The accident triggered a major emergency response as police, SES and volunteer rescuers, firefighters and paramedics attended the accident.
A fleet of air ambulances and helicopters carried the injured to hospitals at Kempsey, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Sydney. A New South Wales Coroner's inquiry into the collision found that the driver of the McCafferty's coach fell asleep at the wheel. This caused his vehicle to travel straight on through a left-hand curve on the highway and collide with the Trans City coach. There was no indication that the driver had applied his brakes or dimmed the headlights, the coroner found. Neither coach was speeding at the time of the crash, and no mechanical faults were found in either vehicle.
The coroner endorsed the recommendation made following the Grafton bus crash two months earlier, that the Pacific Highway be upgraded to dual carriageway between Newcastle and the Queensland border. The New South Wales and Commonwealth governments committed to carry out the required work, with an initial promised completion date of 2006. This target never came close to being met; at July 2008, only 267km (or 39%) of the route had been upgraded to dual carriageway standard. 87km of divided road is under construction and 325km remains single carriageway.
The coroner also recommended research into coach seats, seat anchorages and seatbelts. Better emergency exits for coaches were also recommended, as rescuers were hindered in their initial efforts to enter the wreckage by the positioning of the exits 2.4m from the ground.
Amongst those killed in the crash were Brisbane-based journalists John and Robyn Harris and their teenage son Nicky. John was Arts Editor of Brisbane's The Sun newspaper while Robyn was a feature writer.
Following the collision and despite the extensive damage incurred, both coaches were rebuilt by Denning, being completed in June 1990 and allocated body numbers 1378 (Trans City - original body 1238) and 1379 (McCafferty's - original body 1335). After the demise of Trans City in March 1992, its fleet was sold off and McCafferty's was among the purchasers, buying three coaches including the one involved in the accident. Both of the coaches involved in the Kempsey collision remained in service with McCafferty's for more than a decade.
The McCafferty's coach from the Kempsey crash was involved in another accident exactly 14 years later, in the early hours of 22 December 2003. On this occasion the coach was travelling south towards Rockhampton on the Bruce Highway when it was involved in a head-on collision with a truck. On this occasion there were no fatalities, with six people suffering minor injuries. However, the coach was damaged beyond economic repair and was written off.
This accident and the Grafton bus crash eight weeks earlier were described as "arguably Australia’s most catastrophic examples of high consequence/low probability incidents in the bus industry" in a bus safety discussion document.
- News video of accident
- National Nine News - Nightline clip
- Emergency NSW article including photo
- Mention on Emergency Management Australia website
- NSW Parliament mention in Hansard
- National Transport Commission Improving Safety Management in Australia’s Bus Industry 2008