The 1997 Thredbo disaster was recalled 25 years later, with skiers commemorating the landslide by carrying flares down the mountain.

Mark Pigott remembers the cries of black crows breaking a heavy silence after the Thredbo disaster.

Pigott, an Olympic skier, watched from afar as rescue workers searched through debris in the days after the landslide that claimed 18 lives at the ski resort in July 1997.

“Whenever they thought they could hear something, they’d say, ‘Hush, hush, hush,'” he says.

“You can hear a pin drop across the complex. Often that’s all you could hear [were] the black crows”.

Ski instructor Stuart Diver was the only survivor. He was rescued after many hours of tunneling through unstable debris until he was trapped under concrete slabs. (ABC News (video still))

Pigott, who competed in acroskiing at the 1992 Winter Olympics, was in Thredbo and Perisher training at the time of the landslide, which decimated two ski lodges shortly before midnight on July 30 .

While staying in the nearby town of Jindabyne, Pigott was awakened by a dawn phone call from his father.

“All he said to me was, ‘Where are you?’ I said, “Jindabyne why?” And he said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.’

“I ran and turned on the TV and sure enough, there he was.”

Saturday 30 July, at 23:40, will be the 25th anniversary of the landslide, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Australian history.

After the sun goes down, skiers will mark the occasion by carrying flares down the slopes, a long-standing weekend winter tradition at the resort.

They will remember the victims, who were part of the Thredbo tourism community, including hotel staff, maintenance workers, management and housekeepers.

Ski instructor Stuart Diver was the only survivor, having been trapped in a small air pocket under one of the shelters for three days. His wife, Sally, was one of the victims.

Skiers will do a commemorative flare run on Thredbo Mountain. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)

Mr Diver, who is now Thredbo’s chief executive, says Australians continue to have an emotional attachment to its history.

“Everybody remembers where they were that day, when the landslide ended,” Diver said in an interview on the Better Than Yesterday podcast last year.

“I’m really no different than anyone else, I just went through an unfortunate situation and came out the other end.”

In 2000, state Coroner Derrick Hand found that the landslide was triggered when water from a leaking pipeline saturated an embankment on Alpine Way Road.

The ground gave way near the Carinya ski lodge, shearing it from its foundations and pushing it towards the Bimbadeen lodge.

The rescue effort and resulting research have continued to inform disaster training around the world. (Emergency Management Institute of Australia)

Witnesses described hearing creaks, groans and screams “like a steam train coming to a halt” in the hours before the collapse.

But it is the silence that stands out in many people’s memories of the aftermath, as rescuers used highly sensitive audio equipment in their attempts to find signs of life.

The rescue effort and resulting research have continued to inform disaster training around the world.

NSW Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke said the NSW Fire and Rescue Service had faced one of the most difficult days in its history.

“That day, our firefighters, 165 of them, were later to be commended for their meritorious service during that marathon search and rescue operation in the face of incredible challenges,” he said.

“They are some of the best trained in the world and they played this critical role at Thredbo 25 years ago and what the organization has learned has carried them with them now and into the future.

“It undoubtedly laid the foundation for the organization’s world-leading urban search and rescue capabilities.”

NSW Police this week also paid tribute to rescuers, saying they worked in extremely dangerous conditions but still managed to find Mr Diver “against all odds”.

“Facing the rescue teams was the risk of further landslides, irregular debris, sewage leaks and constant running water,” police said.

“Rescue workers also risked suffering from hyperthermia and frostbite in sub-zero winter temperatures.”

Pigott said that while people had slowly moved on, the memories of that winter night lingered.

“It’s incredibly sad, very raw and personal, because everyone knew someone involved.”


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