August 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Man Rescued From Landslide In Stable Condition 6 Bodies Recovered, 13 Still Missing In Wreckage Of Austrailian Ski Resort

Alan Thornhill Associated Press
 

Weary from a night of digging and finding only bodies, rescuers had nearly abandoned hope of finding any survivors Saturday under the wreckage of a ski resort buried by a landslide.

Suddenly, their sensitive detectors picked up what sounded like a muffled voice coming from under a concrete slab.

Fireman Steve Hirst told rescuers to hold off with their chain saws and lay down on the ground.

“Rescue team working overhead, can anyone hear me?” he shouted.

“I can hear you!” came the response.

For the next 12 hours, searchers, including Stuart Diver’s brother, worked frantically to free the 30-year-old Australian ski instructor.

They drilled a 4-inch hole through the unstable wreckage, pumped in hot air to warm him, and handed the dehydrated Diver liquids and a flashlight. Sometimes they just held his hand.

They pulled him from his icy tomb Saturday evening, 65 hours after the landslide.

“A miracle has occurred,” said police Inspector Charlie Sanderson.

So far, Diver is the only survivor of 20 people buried when the side of a mountain in this ski hamlet gave way just before midnight Wednesday, dropping uprooted trees and tons of earth onto two ski lodges where tourists and resort workers were sleeping.

Six bodies had been found but 13 other people were still missing. Two of the 20 were Americans.

Diver, who suffered multiple scrapes and some frostbite to his feet, was conscious during the ordeal. He was airlifted to a hospital in Canberra, where his relieved mother, father and brother visited him. Doctors said he was in stable condition and would probably be released in a day or two.

Officials said Diver’s peak physical condition helped him survive when temperatures plunged to 16 degrees during the nights. Diver was also a volunteer firefighter at the popular resort in New South Wales, about 185 miles south of Sydney.

Cheers echoed off the mountainside and some onlookers wept as Diver, breathing with the aid of an oxygen mask, was brought out by stretcher. Bells rang out at the local chapel, where a vigil service was being held for the victims.

The rescue was all the more emotional given that the risk of further landslides had prevented rescuers from entering the site until 11 hours after the disaster. By then, the cries of buried victims, calling for help, had faded, and in the two days since, relatives were told it was unlikely their loved ones would be found alive.


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