18 Tourists Die In Snowy Bus Crash

27 September 1973 The Canberra Times 

From Jack Waterford

Adaminaby, Wednesday. - Eighteen people were killed and another 21 were injured when a tourist bus plunged down a slope on the edge of the Tumut Pond reservoir near Cabramurra this afternoon.

All were members of the Brighton Senior Citizens Club, from Adelaide, which had been taking a week-long tour of south-eastern Australia.

The accident occurred shortly after 2.30pm when the bus, which had been travelling from Khancoban to Cooma, failed to take a corner on the steep, narrow road about four miles from Cabramurra.

The bus plunged about 200 ft down the very steep embankment, the roof and seating flying away from the bus before it came to rest just at the edge of the reservoir.

Passengers were flung along the embankment, some landing and drowning in the reservoir. Others slid down the 80-degree slope to the water's edge.

A Melbourne couple, Mr and Mrs D. Payne, were the second arrivals on the scene, having been flagged down by a passing motorist.

While Mr Payne took blankets down the slope and tried to assist the injured, his wife drove about 12 miles to an electricity sub-station to get help.

"One lady managed to climb the slope herself, but those of the rest who were not dead were unable to move up it", Mr Payne said.

"Until more help arrived, which seemed very slow, those who were there tried merely to comfort those who were injured", he said.

About 70 people, mainly employees of the Snowy Mountains Authority formed human chains and attempted to bring the injured up the slope.

Attempts to use a boat to take badly injured people at the base of the slope to a better landing position were unsuccessful until after most of the people had been brought 200ft to the roadside.

Progress in getting the injured to safety was very slow with people slipping on the mud and slate.

"One old lady was dead underneath the roof of the bus", he said.

At this stage the main part of the bus had slipped from the slope into about 30ft of water.

The police rescue squad from Sydney will try to raise the wreck tomorrow but police are confident that all passengers are accounted for.

Six people were removed by boat from the water, and another 12 are believed to have died instantly when, the crash occurred.

Ambulances from Tumut, Jindabyne, Corryong and Cooma operated a shuttle service delivering the injured to Cooma hospital and later recovering the bodies, also to Cooma. No names have yet been given because relatives have yet to be notified.

Police have interviewed the driver of the bus, Mr James Ogilvie, 25, who escaped serious injury.

The bus had been travelling along a steep, winding road, police said, when the brakes failed and Mr Ogilvie tried desperately to stop the bus.

It was going downhill and in a last desperate attempt hedrove it side on into the stone mountain wall.


From Peter Sekuless

Cooma, Wednesday. All the injured have been admitted to the Cooma hospital. One passenger is re- ported to be in a critical condition and three are seriously injured.

The NSW Minister for Lands. Mr Lewis, is travelling to the area and is expected to visit the scene tomorrow.

Mr Lewis said in Sydney tonight that immediate relatives of those involved in the tragedy would be flown, if they wished, to the accident area at NSW Government expense.

The Premier of NSW, Sir Robert Askin, was to have accompanied Mr Lewis, but was prevented by the electricity crisis.

He has moved to set up a governmental committee of inquiry into the accident.

Sir Robert said in a statement that he had consulted the Minister for Transport, Mr Morris, and the Minister for Lands. Mr Lewis, and had authorised them to set up the inquiry.

He also sent a message of sympathy to the relatives of those involved in the accident.

Police said that all the bodies had been recovered from the water.

Authorities in Cooma are having difficulty in storing the bodies of the dead passengers and some are being kept in ambulances on streets of Cooma.

The bus was chartered from Lewis Brothers, of Adelaide.

The group left Adelaide in two buses on Monday. 

The other bus took a different route through Canberra and its passengers are being accommodated at the United Motel, Cooma, tonight.

By 6.30pm the first injured arrived at Cooma hospital. A procession of ambulances and other ve hicles continued to bring the dead and injured from the scene during the night.

Police, civil defence workers and volunteers helped at the scene of the accident.

As the Cooma police communications could not reach the scene, the SMA communication system was used. The SMA also flew Dr R. West, an honorary medical officer, from Cooma to Adaminaby.

Police skin divers, salvage vehicles and the motor vehicle examination section from Sydney will be on the scene tomorrow to salvage the bus.

The district traffic supervisor and detectives are expected also from Goulburn.