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1997 Thredbo landslide

30 July 1997


At 11:35pm on Wednesday, 30 July 1997, 2000 cubic metres of mud and rock shifted below the Alpine Way, a main road above the village of Thredbo in the NSW Alpine region. It travelled down the slope taking with it, Carinya Ski Lodge, then tumbled down the hill across Bobuck Lane, slamming into an elevated car park and the directly into Bimbadeen Lodge.

Large parts of both buildings were scattered across the site and buried under tonnes of rubble and soil.

The area of landslide had a slope of between 22 and 40 degrees, composed primarily of soil and some loose or floating boulders.

Response

At 11:37pm the NSW Fire Brigades Communication Centre at Wollongong received several 000 calls to an explosion at a lodge in Thredbo. Initial response was from Thredbo, Jindabyne (36km away) and Perisher Valley (63km away) Fire Stations. Cooma and Queanbeyan Fire Stations' composite fire engines were also responded.

As soon as the crew from Thredbo Fire Station arrived on the scene information was quickly relayed to NSW Fire Brigades management informing them that an extensive landslide had occurred with numerous people unaccounted for.

The Major Incident Coordination Centre (MICC) in Sydney was activated by the Director State Operations and they immediately responded expert rescue staff with technical search equipment to the incident.

The MICC played a crucial role in providing logistical support and planning throughout the entire incident.

First reports estimated that 100 people were trapped and the scale of the incident required additional resources from other emergency services.

The rescue

Rescue strategies were developed collaboratively by the emergency services, coordinated by NSW Police.

The harsh environment, steepness of the hill and instability of the site made rescue operations difficult. The instability of the site under darkness posed danger to emergency services personnel and rescue could not begin until daylight.

It was only after initial assessments were made of the collapsed structure that void areas and effective search methods could be carried out to detect the location of trapped victims. Only then was drilling through slabs and inserting cameras possible.

Approximately 1100 individual pieces of equipment were used on site by NSW firefighters. The majority were supplied from the extensive inventory of highly sophisticated urban search and rescue (USAR) equipment available on site.

The rescue of Stuart Diver

At 5:50am on Saturday, 2 August the USAR rescue team located a male survivor under three concrete slabs. The victim, Stuart Diver, was trapped in a confined space under three slabs of concrete and, although suffering from hypothermia, was not severely injured.

While conducting debris removal Leading Firefighter Stephen Hirst heard a sound. After two calls of "rescue team above can you hear me", he finally heard a response - "I can hear you".

Two lines of attack were set up to rescue Stuart. One coming from 16 metres from the eastern side and tunnelling through the pile, and another that was coming underneath Stuart. Fibre optic cameras were also used to gain a better understanding of where Stuart was located.

During the rescue a team of paramedics would go in every 20 minutes for 5 minutes to monitor his condition.

After more than ten hours Stuart was retrieved from the tunnel made above his location.

The locating of Stuart, and his subsequent rescue, brought overwhelming joy to rescuers and the general public.

Urban search and rescue

Since the Thredbo disaster the NSW Fire Brigades has further expanded its urban search and rescue capability including the development of strategic partnerships with other NSW and interstate emergency services.

We have also helped to develop USAR capabilities in the Asia Pacific region.