Hope fades for buried victims of landslide

Australia ski resort disaster: All 20 people missing feared dead in freezing temperatures

After two nights buried under rubble in freezing temperatures, in what Australians call the "high country", there seems little hope than any of the 20 landslide victims in the alpine village of Thredbo will be brought out alive.

Rescue workers found one body last night, and will resume this morning their perilous task of picking through the wreckage of two ski lodges piece by piece, perched on the side of a hill below a road that collapsed just before midnight on Wednesday, sending the buildings crashing into each other as their occupants slept.

The slide hit so suddenly that it swept away a woman who was taking a late-night stroll with her husband. Walking a few paces ahead of her, he survived.

Miraculously, only one person was staying in the uppermost lodge, Carrinya, owned by a ski club in Canberra. At weekends the lodge would be packed with families.

In Bimbadeen, the lodge downhill from Carrinya, about 19 workers employed by the company that runs the Thredbo resort had retired when the disaster struck. They are believed to be Australians and Americans.

Holidaymakers and skiers in surrounding lodges that somehow stayed standing dashed from their beds when they heard a roar that some likened to a tornado. Ron Stiebel, an Australian tourist, said: "It just looked like a vacuum cleaner had emptied a giant load of debris on to the side of the hill."

Glenn Milne, a political journalist with Australia's Channel Seven television network, was on holiday with his family in a lodge next door. He told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio: "It was like an enormous gust of wind. It shook our lodge to its foundations. Then we heard a car alarm going off. My wife, Karen, jumped out of bed and walked out to the veranda, part of the railing of which had been taken away by the rubble.

"She said, `My God, there are cars everywhere'. As well as buildings coming down, all the terrace car parks had come down too. So cars were smashed on top of the lodges. I bundled my two little daughters up and ran them to the bottom of the hill because the whole thing was unstable.

"When I got back up, we could hear voices in the rubble, at least three. One was definitely a male. Someone I was with said there was possibly a female as well. We tried to get to them, we were trying to claw the rubble away to get to the voices. But, as we were doing so, the cars above us that had pancaked on to the concrete were teetering on the edge. We were still trying to get to them when the emergency services arrived. They took one look at the situation, identified the places where we heard the voices and ordered us out. They said it was far too dangerous.

"The worst thing about it was you just had to walk away."

Another survivor, John Hutcheons from Adelaide, said he heard voices in two areas of the rubble minutes after the slide came to a halt. "I can't be very hopeful," he said. "It's exceedingly dangerous and exceedingly difficult for the emergency service men. They can pick bits off the top, but there's a chance it may all slip away again and take them with it."

It was this uncertainty about the rubble's stability that made police delay starting the rescue operation for 12 hours on the advice of geophysical experts who were flown in by helicopter from Sydney, about 250 miles to the north. As darkness fell yesterday evening, and temperatures dropped below freezing, a chain of about 200 rescuers prepared to work through the night under floodlights.

Their hopes dimmed after sound recorders and cameras lowered into the debris failed to detect any signs or sounds of life. They feared that any survivors who might be trapped in air pockets would succumb to hypothermia after a day and two nights in freezing temperatures.

Even as the rescue operation got under way, questions were being asked about the cause of the disaster. Conservationists argue that Thredbo has been over-developed with too many lodges on the fragile mountain slope, and that the landslide was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living