`Water ran down the hill and filled his cocoon. He had only an inch or two above his nose and he would lift his head against the concrete slab and suck in the air. The fact that this young fellow is super fit is probably the main reason he survived'

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The Independent Online
Stuart Diver, the Australian ski instructor rescued after three days trapped under landslide rubble where his wife died beside him, has given a graphic account of the survival that has stunned doctors, his rescuers and ordinary Australians alike.

Mr Diver, 27, was in hospital in Canberra, the Australian capital, last night recovering from frostbite to his feet, cuts to his body, dehydration and tiredness, the sum total of his ailments from an ordeal that doctors said would have killed almost anyone else.

From his hospital bed yesterday, Mr Diver recorded a television message of thanks to his rescuers. "I'd just like to thank everyone who was involved in my rescue, the fire brigade, and all the rescue services along with the medical teams at Thredbo and here in Canberra and all the people who prayed for me and gave me so much support over the last couple of days," he said.

"It's been overwhelming and I don't think I'd have made it through without the involvement of all those people."

"His chances of survival were one in a million," said Richard Morris, the doctor who helped to keep Mr Diver alive during his 12-hour rescue on Saturday from under the rubble of a ski lodge that was flattened by a landslide of mud, water, concrete and wood on Wednesday Wednesday night in the ski resort of Thredbo, in southern New South Wales. "The fact that he has been able to survive is absolutely remarkable."

Mr Diver and his wife, Sally, were in a ground-floor flat in Bimbadeen, a lodge where 16 other resort workers were also staying, when the landslide crashed down on it without warning just before midnight on Wednesday, taking another lodge, Carinya, with it. Being on the ground floor probably saved Mr Diver; the debris entombed him in a concrete cocoon, surrounded by mattresses and smashed furniture from their bedroom with just enough space for him to lie flat on his back without being able to turn over.

But he lay in total darkness for the next three days, his clothes soaked by mud and water while the temperature outside dropped at night to -6C. And he was helpless to save his wife slipping from his arms and drowning.

The 500-strong Thredbo rescue team had almost given Mr Diver up for dead, along with the 19 other people crushed in the landslide, until an ambulance officer heard his muffled cries from under three layers of concrete at 5.37am on Saturday. Rescuers drilled a hole through concrete to pass him a torch and a hose to pump warm air into the cavity. He was pulled to safety as darkness fell on Saturday evening.

Rob Killham, a Sydney fireman, said: "He told us that his wife had been pinned by something very heavy on the mattress next to him after the collapse. He said that water was running through there and that his wife had drowned. He let us know very early on in the day that she had died."

Another rescuer, Bruce Tarrant, said: "He was holding his wife up out of the water under that concrete slab. There was a stream of water running down the slope and she was slipping out of his grip. He hung on desperately, he doesn't know how long. But then there was another sudden rush of mud and water and she was swept out of his arms. He had his nose pressed up against the concrete slab trying to keep his own head out of the water."

Paul Featherstone, one of two paramedics who crawled into a tunnel dug so that they could talk to Mr Diver, said: "He thought the lodge had been bombed. Within seconds, the whole place erupted. A stream of water ran down the hill and filled his cocoon at one stage. He had only an inch or two above his nose and he would lift his head quite remarkably and put it against the concrete slab and suck in the air. The fact that this young fellow is super fit is probably the main reason he survived."

While rescuers worked frantically overhead in below-freezing conditions, Mr Featherstone kept Mr Diver's spirits alive by talking about the weather and skiing life in Thredbo. "He said at times he thought that maybe he wouldn't get out, but this guy wouldn't let that beat him," Mr Featherstone said. "When he saw light of the sky when he finally came out, he looked up and said `That sky is fantastic'."

The media have dubbed Mr Diver "miracle man" and called his rescuers heroes. Those rescuers include Euan Diver, Stuart's brother, a fireman from Thredbo. "When he was put into the ambulance, I said 'Hang in there brother'," Euan Diver said.

As the rescuers worked through their fifth night last night, they had discovered nine bodies, leaving 10 people still missing. Mr Diver's rescue has lifted their spirits, but any hopes of finding more survivors are being compromised by the precarious nature of the rubble on a steep slope that keeps slipping further.