Rescuers eased aside dirt and rubble Saturday to reach a man found alive nearly 2-1/2 days after 20 people were buried by a landslide.
“A miracle has occurred,” New South Wales Police Inspector Charlie Sanderson said after Stuart Diver was heard by rescuers about 54 hours after the landslide swept over a ski resort.
A small hole had been driven through to Diver and drinking fluids were being sent to him, an ambulance worker said. He was expected to be freed from the wreckage shortly.
The discovery raised hope that others may have survived. The confirmed toll so far is one survivor, three bodies located and 16 people still missing. Hours earlier, police had warned relatives that there was no hope of finding anyone alive.
After digging all night, rescuers “went ballistic” when sensitive sound monitoring equipment picked up noises from under a concrete slab, aid police spokesman Mark Hargreaves.
Diver was conscious during the ordeal but had little feeling in his body, police said.
Officials said Diver, an Australian ski instructor, was in peak physical condition, which would have aided his survival as temperatures plunged to 16 degrees over the past three nights.
Despite the threat of another landslide, rescue crews - at times using their hands to avoid sending rubble into the excavated area - worked their way through debris to within three feet of Diver.
An oxygen cylinder and mask and what appeared to be a foil space blanket were passed to workers trying to reach Diver. A medical helicopter was waiting nearby to take him to a hospital.
“If we can keep this person alive, that’s marvelous,” ambulance spokesman Steve Johnson said.
The threat of another avalanche prompted the area to be evacuated temporarily today .
“In this case two ambulance people stayed in the tunnel at great peril to themselves in proximity to where this person is,” Sanderson said.
A geologist was brought in to assess the stability of the area and work quickly resumed.
Of the 20 caught in the slide, 17 are Australians, two are American and one is from New Zealand. None of the bodies has been identified by authorities yet, and police have not released the names of the missing.
The Americans were identified by the national newspaper The Australian as Mim and Mike Sodergren, 41 and 46, respectively, of Tahoe City, Calif.
On Friday, an emotional religious service was held in Thredbo’s tiny chapel, where mourners were invited to pray for those trapped, and for their families and those involved in the rescue effort.
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