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Stuart Diver's 64-Hour Visit to Hell on Earth.

Updated on January 25, 2016

Stoic, Resilient...are these the humans fate needs destroy!?

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Stuart finds temporary bliss againThe disaster area of the slide on top of buildingsStuart sees the light for the first time in 64 hoursThe "Snowies"  Aussie Snowy Mountain areaStuart and "Sal Pal" on their wedding day
Stuart finds temporary bliss again
Stuart finds temporary bliss again
The disaster area of the slide on top of buildings
The disaster area of the slide on top of buildings
Stuart sees the light for the first time in 64 hours
Stuart sees the light for the first time in 64 hours
The "Snowies"  Aussie Snowy Mountain area
The "Snowies" Aussie Snowy Mountain area
Stuart and "Sal Pal" on their wedding day
Stuart and "Sal Pal" on their wedding day

Stuart survived Thredbo, but fate wasn't finished...

I wish I could ask the Almighty some questions about the events in this story. Not that He could come up with any satisfactory answers, I am sure, for the suffering and loss endured by the people involved.

My hub article today started, as many others have, with the purchase of a book in a charity shop. It was actually in the give-away section of Tescos and a box labelled "Diabetes Foundation" stood nearby for any donations. As I have diabetes, I always look here for any interesting decent books donated by the store's customers, and feel good about a pound or so donation.

The cover to this 224 page paperback caught my interest first. It was titled "Survival," with a picture of Stuart Diver, the author and survivor of the Thredbo Landslide Disaster, in 1997, New South Wales, Australia. (with assisting author, journalist Simon Bouda).

Many of you will remember this headline rescue and the great international sadness at all the lives lost. In fact, Stuart Diver was the only victim finally pulled out alive after more than 60 hours trapped in below freezing conditions, in the pitch black, with his dead wife trapped beside him. (Please try to picture that).

The well-written book is mostly concerned with Stuart's horror, hour-by-hour, as hundreds of rescuers try to dig through the unstable porridge of 4,000 tons of mud, running water, rocks, vehicles, and concrete slabs that were left, still ominously on the move, from the slice of mountainside that had careened down into Thredbo buildings, Carinya and Bimbadeen Lodges at over 30 miles per hour.

Stuart and his wife, Sally, ("Sal-Pal") were working in the Thredbo Ski Resort, part of the beautiful Snowy Mountains area of New South Wales, S.W. of Canberra, in Eastern Australia.

The attractive and athletic Divers had a sound marriage for some years, full of adventure and with close family ties on both sides of the union. Fate spares neither the good nor the bad; when its fickle fingers touch the golden young with so much to live for, it seems all the much worse somehow.

Let me say now, this is not a book review and critique. This is something you readers will have to this book on Ebay or Amazon (or, like me, have a serendipidous charity shop find), and read this journal of a man trapped in disaster, and mired in heart-breaking loss, minute by minute, hour by hour, as his physical state deteriorates into agony and then numbness, and his mental state veers between wishing for death to join his beloved wife, a foot or so away, covered in soil and concrete - to deciding he wanted to live, to "get back at the fates which have treated him so cruelly and unfairly."

This book is a MUST read, I make no excuse for employing this cliche.

I tried to imagine the impossible horror of being trapped in these conditions as I read, page after page, of his ordeal.

Stuart Diver's first awareness of the arrival of part of the overhanging hill was as his ground-floor apartment in Bimbadeen Lodge folded around his sleeping wife and himself, just after nightfall, accompanied by the sounds of the building being crushed in seconds by an overwhelming force; the ferro-cement structure and floors folding on top of the couple.

Sally stood no chance, although only the other side of the bed, she was trapped by a ferro-concrete beam, which had narrowly missed Stuart, the bed-head folded down and trapped her upper body and water cascaded in, effectively drowning her screams and extinguishing her vital life in 30 seconds.

Stuart, caught in the trauma of the moment, could do nothing except put a hand over her face "To try and stop the filthy water getting into her mouth."

As he saw her die so close and yet so far, he "decided to try and save himself from the rising flood of water, diesel and filth" that was about to suffocate him as well.

This freezing flood was to come and go several times as rescuers tried to dam and divert water released from undergound streams, streams that, in fact, had caused much of the instability of the mountain in the first place.

Stuart was trapped in a space that only allowed restricted movement. For a start, he was in pitch darkness, a flooring slab of ferro-concrete had descended to with a few inches of his face and head. His wife was soon lost to him by the sucking water and soil that tipped the bed and buried her to one side of it. Stuart is dressed in a pair of jockey pants and a T-shirt facing nights that would drop to minus 9 degrees Celsius. He does manage to drag a small piece of material torn from the bedding trapped to his left and a life-saving fleece waistcoat that he struggles for hours to get into. "It was soaked and full of mud," Stuart says, "But I remembered it might have the properties of wool which can conserve heat, even when saturated to some degree." In fact, it is Diver's experience as a ski-instructor and habitue of the cold places on the planet which helped his survival, both in his great physical fitness and mental prepairdness. As I read, I knew that this flubby writer would have given up and expired within hours or less.

Ferro-concrete is a useful product. It can carry huge loads; cut building time in half; endure for a century; can be soundproof and easily decorated, among many other attributes.

In an event like a mud slide or an earthquake this tough blend of cement and re-bar can also be a crushing assassin which bars any attempts to rescue those trapped between its sandwich of layers, and the trees, rocks and mud that make a typical lethal admix.

I saw this horrifyingly apparent in Mexico's 1985 earthquake where huge towering apartment blocks had collapsed, floor upon floor, with the humans in their clutches reduced to being as jam in some ghastly sandwich.

After the '97 Thredbo incident, in 9/11 2001, this telescoping collapse was again all too obvious at the World Trade Centre Towers, enveloping thousands of dead and dying in their maw.

Compared to both of the above disasters, Thredbo represented just 18 souls lost and only one saved: Stuart Diver. The publicity the disaster engendered was out of all proportion to its size after body after body greeted the rescuers efforts, the whole world waiting for some success.

It was decided due to lack of visibility and the groans and rumbles still coming from the slide to wait until morning to begin rescue. Meanwhile, emergency helpers of every stripe began arriving from all over Eastern Australia.

The situation was grim indeed as the hundreds of professional and ordinary people began to look and listen for survivors.

The first almost 48 hours seemd to be filled with organizing the huge work force, many in tears and trying to run into the morass to find a friend or relative, to be held back by a chain of NSW police.

Finally, diamond tipped circular saws and earth-moving equipment began to cut gingerly into the concrete floors; move or immobolize rocks and trees; attempt to dam and divert ground water; shut off utilities and all the rest - which you will read about in this absorbing book.

Meanwhile, Stuart Diver was held practically motionless, listening for sounds of rescue he devoutedly believed were at hand.

I am going to stop this hub article here as regards the rescue which you will want to read about in this graphic cut and chop the details around to fit this small treatise would do the Divers and the book no favours.

I do want to jump here over the agonizing rescue, which had me sobbing like a girl; Stuart's experience with the world press and his immense contribution to charities and encounter groups in the following years.

This is where I might pose my question to an Almighty God, should one have any sway over our vulnerable lives and approaching death.

Stuart did find happiness again, marrying again five years after the disaster, to Thredbo worker, Rosanna (nee Cossettini).

Three weeks after their 2002 wedding, Rosanna was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a long period of remission, Rosanna, too, was taken from Stuart just one year ago, on March 21, 2015.

They managed, against all medical prognostications, to have a daughter in 2011, Alessia.

Stuart Diver, this tough, matey Aussie, says his daughter and his memories are now what keeps him going. Along with his close family and all the friends he has made along the way.

I won't forget this book, and neither will you, I promise.


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    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 19 months ago from North Texas

      The world really sucks, doesn't it? Everywhere one looks, there is ugliness and misery. Yes, a few people are living high off the hog, and seem to escape life's perils, but God is not the only one who bestows gifts, so it's likely these fleeting gifts the wealthy enjoy will be all they ever receive. The Bible indicates that to be the case more often than not.

      Yes, there is a bit of beauty here and there around the planet that humans haven't managed to destroy yet, but they're still working on it, not done yet.

      Every now and then one may run into someone of a kind nature, but for the most part, people are petty and selfish. Busily pointing their fingers at others while the real horror lies within their stingy judgmental selves.

      Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, right down to the most minute detail. No misery, however small, is left out. Yet it is said that Hell is even worse? Maybe the people who think so don't live in Texas . . .

      Afraid I wouldn't have lasted long either for I am impatient to have this life behind me. Life is not a gift, it's a punishment. Diver's wives are the fortunate ones to be gone from this nightmare and hopefully in a better place if they must exist at all.

      Hope you are well, and one of the few who get a bit of pleasure from this Hell hole now and then. Take care . . . xxx

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 23 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Nor would most people. He had his extreme physical fitness & a will of steel. I too would have perished. Just imagining bitterly frigid, wet, seemingly hopeless situation & the mental anguish of his dead wife laying feet from him~~Unfathomable!

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 23 months ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi fphgrd48

      Thanks for warm comments. He was and is a very mentally strong individual, not to mention, fit! Most of us - me anyway - wouldn't have lasted an hour in those conditions...Bob

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 23 months ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Shyron: Perhaaps they really happen to good and bad alike: Or perhaps the adventurous and wealthier folk are the risk takers? But they sure were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bob

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 23 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      diogenes....First let me say that your review is written incredibly well. Your style & talent is conducive to the kind of reading that cannot be put down until reaching the end.

      I hadn't heard of this disaster/tragedy. I thank you for the education. This man's horror throughout is something too heart-ripping to imagine. I hope he has taken some level of comfort & peace with the knowledge that for all things, there is a reason.

      I wish he and his daughter a life of joy & serenity. The strength & resolve this man has is near super-human.

      Wonderful review, Diogenes. Thank you for sharing this with your readers.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 23 months ago from Texas

      Why do bad things happen to good people? That is what I read into you title question.

      I wish I could answer, but I do think it was because the Drivers were in the wrong place at the right/wrong time.

      This is very interesting and I am glad that I read it.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi TT. These tense survival stories are always gripping reading. But this is one of the "best" that has crossed my transom, I hope you find a copy.

      Thanks for visit and comment


    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 2 years ago from California

      I remember Driver's rescue. Also remember the last survivor pulled out of the carnage of the San Francisco Bay Bridge collapse after the Loma Prieta earthquake 1989. His name was Buck and he died a few days later. That kind of thing sticks with you. I'll go look for the book.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi aviannovice: Yes to your observation and thanks for kind comment.


    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Moonlake: I guess it is all a lottery after all, although the adventurous amongst us would seem to be exposed to negative odds. But even this scenario is better than the one offered by the religious that"God has his own reasons for the disparity in human fortune." To be like aphids at the mercy of the ant.


    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This tale of tragedy only reminds us that we are not immortal, that disaster can strike at any time, snuffing out life as we know it. Kudos to Stuart, his bravery, and the fact that you succinctly captured it in such few words. I salute and thank you for opening my eyes to this event.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 2 years ago from America

      So sad, some people go through life with so much loss while others don't. We just don't know the answer to all of that.

      There was a man killed on the corner by my house he was driving his motorcycle and hit a deer. The week before his brother passed away. I can't imagine what their mother was going through. Why did she have so much tragedy in her life?

      It seems to me I saw this story on tv long time ago. I will have to get the book.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

      My friends: Please note I have changed the title to this article, anticipating unwanted religious debate.

      Thanks Bob

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Interesting observation, Kingdom Come, if it were possible I would. I would also ask him why his second wife was unfortunately born with the cancer gene. Perhaps I should have used another title and may change this one if it attracts a lot of religious discussion, which was not really the reason I wrote it. Thanks for your comment


    • profile image

      KingdomCome 2 years ago from those of the Ecclesia

      Here's the way I see it. That mud slide would have happened wheather Mr. Diver and his wife was there or not. So, instead of asking the Almight why Mr. Diver suffered, why not ask Mr. Diver why he was there in the first place. And then see if Mr. Diver answer satisfies you.