Stuart and Sally Diver had just gone to bed when their ski chalet was crushed by a landslide. Suddenly, Stuart found himself trapped under tons of debris, struggling to keep his head above the icy waters of a stream. He held tightly to his wife.
“She was slipping out of his grip. He hung on desperately. … But then there was another sudden rush of mud and water and she was swept out of his arms,” said Bruce Tarrant, a rescue helicopter spokesman. “He knows he lost his wife in that hell-hole.”
Sixty-five hours later, rescuers finally reached the 30-year-old Diver - the only known survivor of the landslide that buried 20 people in two ski lodges just before midnight Wednesday.
When rescuers brought Diver to the surface, the ski instructor got his first breath of fresh air and looked up at the twilight settling on the Snowy Mountains.
“That sky is fantastic!” he told emergency workers.
From a hospital bed in Canberra on Sunday, Diver made his first public comments since his rescue, with his parents, Annette and Steve, by his side.
“I’d just like to thank everyone who was involved in my rescue … and all the people who prayed for me and gave me so much support over the last couple of days,” Diver said in a hoarse voice.
“It’s been overwhelming and I don’t think I’d have made it through without the involvement of all those people.”
Diver was moved out of intensive care, and frostbite on some toes of his left foot remained the most serious physical problem. Doctors said he may be able to leave the hospital within days.
So far, Diver is the only known survivor of the landslide that buried 20 people sleeping in two ski lodges just before midnight Wednesday. On Monday morning, police said nine bodies had been found.
Of the 20 caught in the slide, 17 were Australians, two were Americans and one was a New Zealander. The Americans were identified by the national newspaper The Australian as Mim and Mike Sodergren, 41 and 46, respectively, of Tahoe City, Calif.
Excavation efforts are now focused on bedrooms and a kitchen discovered in the rubble at the popular ski resort in New South Wales, about 185 miles south of Sydney.