Australia’s Worst Alpine Disaster 25 Years Later: The Thredbo Landslide

Julia Schneemann | | AvalancheAvalanche
Thredbo Landslide
The site of the Thredbo landslide, picture Museum of Fire Facebook Page

Shortly before midnight on July 30, 1997, a landslide in the ski resort of Thredbo caused Australia’s worst alpine disaster. After torrential rain and snow in the days leading up, the soil was eroded, causing a landslide that broke the Carinya Lodge in two. Parts of the debris slid further down into the Bimbadeen Lodge and its staff quarters.

In the bright daylight of the next morning, emergency responders faced a site of sheer devastation. They had a difficult and heartbreaking task at hand. The ground was unstable and an underground stream gushing thousands of liters every hour further eroded the soil. The site was not safe for rescue staff to excavate and specialists had to be consulted. The total number of missing fluctuated heavily as the number of guests and staff in the lodges was unclear. It took until that evening for the first body to be found.

Rescue workers
Thredbo landslide rescue efforts, picture: NSW Police Force Facebook Homepage

1,350 rescue workers tirelessly searched in freezing conditions in two-hour shifts, risking their own lives on the precarious debris, but hoping against hope to find someone alive. Unfortunately, the next find was not until the next morning, August 1, and it was another body. Then two more bodies were found in the afternoon. Chances of finding anyone alive at this point had dwindled to near zero.

On the morning of August 2, against all odds, sound equipment detected movement below a concrete slab. Rescue firefighter Steve Hirst called out “Can anyone hear me?” To his surprise, a faint voice called back “I can hear you!” 27-year-old ski instructor Stuart Diver had survived for 54 hours under the pocket created by two concrete slabs. Dressed in only his underwear, he had survived the landslide and the freezing cold next to his wife Sally, a reservations manager at Thredbo, who had tragically passed away the very first night. He had held her hand the entire time.

Rescue Thredbo
Rescue efforts in the aftermath of the Thredbo Landslide, picture:  NSW Police Force Facebook Page

It took another eleven hours for Stuart Diver to be freed. A cheer went not just through Thredbo, but all of Australia, when Stuart surfaced after 65 hours from under the wreckage of the lodge. Everyone held hope that more survivors might be found, but Stuart remained the sole survivor of the Thredbo landslide. Stuart Diver went on to become a symbol for resilience in Australia. He still lives in Thredbo and has worked in several roles in the resort. Currently, Stuart is the general manager of Thredbo.

A total of 18 lives were lost during the disaster: Mary Frances Phillips, Michael Sodegren, Mariam Sodegren, Werner Jecklin, Oskar Luhn, Aino Senbruns, Andrew McArthur, Steve Moss, Wendy O’Donohue, Steven Urosovic, Barry Decker, Colin Warren, Dianne Hoffman, Dianne Aisnworth, John Cameron, David Glenn Watson, Anthony Weaver and Sally Diver. All working on and off the slopes at the resort. May their souls rest in peace.

RIP
Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

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