A TALE of bravery, heroism and tragedy was remembered yesterday on the 20th anniversary of the Eungella bridge collapse.
On April 1, 1989, John and Linda Barnfield of Eungella, their two sons Wesley and Mark and two local boys - Travis Campbell, 14, and David Grace, 12, were crossing the 50-year-old Oxley River Bridge, about 10km west of Murwillumbah, when a wall of water washed them away, destroying the bridge's structure.
It is believed Mr Barnfield, who was a fit, strong swimmer, was instantly knocked unconscious.
The force of the water was so strong it ripped the clothes from their bodies.
Travis managed to hold onto a floating log and pulled David onto it as well. Travis then dived into a whirlpool and helped 11-year-old Wesley Barnfield out of the current and into a tree, which was at water level due to the 10.9-metre flooding.
Mrs Barnfield struggled to stay afloat in the torrents as she could not swim.
She later said when she saw her son Wesley grab hold of a tree she thought to herself “I will not let someone tell my boys tomorrow they have found my body”, and latched onto a tree also.
Travis and David floated on the log until they could reach a riverbank.
The boys spent the night at the Hare Krishna farm where Travis lived, as the area was inaccessible.
A large-scale search involving navy, police, volunteers and the rescue helicopter started the next morning and Travis, David and Wesley were found waiting where the bridge used to be.
Mrs Barnfield was also found that morning clinging to the branches of a tree she had held onto throughout the night. She said she was constantly kicking away snakes and other animals that tried to crawl up her legs.
Mark Barnfield's body was found three days after the floods about one-and-a-half kilometres from the bridge.
Searchers discovered Mr Barnfield's raincoat under debris the next day, but his body was never found.
While on a camping trip about eight weeks later with David, Travis touched a fallen power-line which tragically killed him instantly.
He was awarded a posthumous bravery award for his efforts in the bridge collapse and the Travis Campbell Reserve on the Oxley River at Eungella is dedicated to him.