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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum