How many have to die?
LISMORE mother Debbie Laycock may have survived Australia’s worst ever road accident near Kempsey two decades ago, but today she can’t fathom why the highway upgrade is still not finished.
“I think it is an absolute travesty that the road is still not fixed,” she said.
“That was the worst accident in Australian history. There were so many lives lost ... what does it take?”
Ms Laycock was trapped for hours in the bus that collided head-on with another coach on the Pacific Highway at 3.30am on December 22, 1989.
“It was horrific. I woke completely disorientated and in total darkness,” she said.
“People were screaming and there was a strong smell of diesel. We thought everything would burst into flames.”
Thirty-five people perished in the accident, which came just two months after 21 people died on the same road in the Cowper bus crash. Like so many other passengers, she was heading home for Christmas.
“It never goes away,” she said. “It had a catastrophic effect on my life.
“I had no sense of time but I remember the rescue guys. They were amazing and I have nothing but praise for them.
“It must have been like a scene from hell, yet they were so calm and reassuring.
“They kept up my sense of humour and kept telling me, ‘don’t worry, we’ll get you out’.”
Until the accident, the talented young potter had a promising career in ceramics, having studied at the National Art School.
“The accident put an end to all that,” she said.
Ms Laycock considers herself one of the lucky ones – having suffered “only” a broken pelvis, a broken leg and a dislocated hip.
“So many were worse off than me and I kept thinking ‘what have I got to complain about?’. Physically I was out of hospital in a couple of weeks,” she said.
“I had no counselling, which in hindsight probably wasn’t good. It was really tough.
“I’ve now got three beautiful kids and I’ve re-trained. I keep really healthy these days and I try to stay creative, too.”HORROR SMASH DETAILS
IT WAS 20 years ago today that Australia woke to the full horror of the Kempsey bus crash.
Thirty-five people died and 41 were injured when two tourist coaches collided head-on at Clybucca Flat just north of Kempsey on the Pacific Highway at 3.30am.
The coroner found that the driver of the south-bound McCafferty’s coach fell asleep at the wheel and failed to negotiate a left hand bend. The bus crossed the centre line and collided with an oncoming TransCity coach.
For 13 hours emergency workers worked tirelessly to free the trapped survivors.
Fleets of ambulances and helicopters carried the injured to hospitals nearby and as far away as Sydney.
Both accidents triggered coronial inquests that initiated radical and unprecedented reforms to the heavy transport industry, though the coroner’s first and foremost recommendation in both inquests – to upgrade Australia’s busiest highway to a dual carriageway – has still not been completed.