Survival: The inspirational story of the Thredbo disaster’s sole survivor
Sample of Survival: The inspirational story of the Thredbo disaster’s sole survivor
I’m fast asleep . . . from somewhere in my subconscious comes a rumbling sound. It’s growing louder . . . louder. It’s roaring.
My eyes shoot open. Is this one of those thrilling winds that tear down the valley? No, this is something far more frightening.
A hailstorm? An explosion? A bomb? The thoughts flash through my mind.
My body is shaking, uncontrollably shuddering. Sally awakes. Our flat is moving all around us. Everything’s rattling, crashing down.
I hear the window being smashed in. I hear the glass shatter, showering us in our bed. Instinctively I lift my head off the pillow to see what’s happening. It’s dark. Nothing makes sense. The wall behind us comes crashing down on our bed. My head is forced back down as the roof caves in on top of us.
I can feel the ceiling about three centimetres in front of my face. I’m choking on dust. I can’t breathe . . . I’m coughing, choking. I can’t see a thing.
I’ve got to get us out . . . where? I roll off the bed and try to find the window. I land on broken glass, slashing at my hands and knees. I blindly feel around for a way out but there’s no room . . . no escape. It’s pitch black. I climb back onto the bed.
Sal’s screaming and screaming. ‘It’s OK, Sal. It’s OK. We’ll be all right.’ She’s screaming, ‘I’m pinned . . . I can’t feel anything from the waist down’.
‘It’s all right Sal, we’ll be OK.’
I reach out to touch her; she’s still under our doona. I run my hand down the shape of her body and find a big concrete beam across her waist. I move my hand up to her face and she’s screaming again, ‘I can’t lift my head. My head is pinned’. Her head’s trapped by the bedhead.
There’s so much noise. It begins as a rumble and blocks out everything else as it hits—a rush of freezing water. Both of us are screaming—blood curdling, terrifying screams. The water cascades down onto us. It swirls around us . . . rising and rising.
I’m holding Sally’s face. I can’t shift the bedhead off her; it’s not budging; I’m trying, Oh God, I’m trying to move it. The water’s absolutely freezing—it takes my breath away as it bites into my semi-naked body.
The air is thick with dust; my mouth fills with it. I’m choking.
‘Sal, it’s OK. We’re going to be OK. It’s OK . . . we’re going to be all right.’ She’s screaming ‘Stuart, Stuart’ at the top of her voice—‘Stuart, Stuart, Stuart’ over and over and over again.
The water’s flying around us. I put my hand over Sal’s mouth. I’ve got to stop the water getting in. It’s rising, rising. It’s useless. I can feel the water seeping between my fingers, filling her mouth. I’ve got to stop the water. Please, I’ve got to stop the water.
It floods in, I can’t stop it. She’s gurgling, drowning as her lungs fill up. My hand is still over her mouth. I can feel her face, contorted. The screaming has stopped . . . I feel the life drain out of my wife’s body . . . she goes limp. I can’t see her face but I know it’s a mask of sheer terror . . . I take my hand away.
I feel so useless, helpless—totally, completely and utterly unable to do anything. I feel so small, so insignificant. I’d always thought I had the ability to protect Sal. I can’t anymore.
I must survive . . . nothing I can do for Sal . . . I must try to save myself.
I arch my back, using my elbows to push myself above the water. Mud and water flow around me. My mouth is just out of the water. There’s a tiny gap between my mouth and the roof, a tiny air pocket; at least I can breathe. The water laps at my lips. I must keep pushing myself up.
Part of me wants to just drop; the water can take me too. It’s taken my wife . . . take me too . . . I just want to be with Sal.
The walls feel like they’re closing in; the roof is getting closer . . . get me out of here. No control. I’m constrained. I can hardly move.
The water flows away.
It all took just 30 seconds. Thirty seconds that keep replaying in my mind over and over again, the details as vivid now as the night it happened. Thirty seconds that changed my life forever and took the lives of 18 other people, one of them my reason for living . . . my wife Sal.
Thirty seconds earlier we had been safely tucked up in bed. Bimbadeen Lodge had been our home, our haven; it had now become our tomb.
Thredbo has been like a second home, more or less, ever since I was born. I know this place. I know its beauty . . . I now know its terror. It was the night of July 30, 1997.
Sal dying in my hands will stay in my mind forever. I’ll take that memory to the grave.
“My body is shaking, uncontrollably shuddering. Everything’s rattling, crashing down. I’m choking on dust. I can’t breathe… I’m coughing, choking. Sal’s screaming …”
On the night of July 30th 1997 a landslide shattered the tranquility of Thredbo Village, sweeping away two ski lodges and burying 19 people beneath tonnes of concrete and mud. In the days that followed, the world mourned as rescuers dragged body after body from the rubble.
But out of tragedy sprang an amazing story of survival. Stuart Diver, whose young wife Sally died beside him in the first moments of the slide, had clung to life buried beneath a concrete slab for 65 freezing hours.
This is Stuart Diver’s story. The story of how one man found the mental and physical strength to live through tragedy and survive against impossible odds.
Stuart relives the event that changed his world forever and talks honestly about what went through his mind during his long hours alone beneath the rubble, his painful recovery, and his inspirational attitude to life and the future. And he reveals how the lessons he learned at Thredbo can help each of us find the inner strength to become a survivor.
This special edition includes four bonus chapters that covers Stuart’s life in the more than ten years since the original publication of Survival.
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Stuart Diver still lives in idyllic Thredbo, where he works as an Executive Manager. Living with his wife Rosanna and daughter Alessia they all enjoy the activities and people who live in this inspiring part of the world. He works on the public speaking circuit and still does a considerable amount of charity work involving himself in a variety of exiting projects.Find out more