Tara Brown remembers Thredbo disaster 25 years on

The journalist recalls her experience reporting on the tragedy.
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Resilience and courage are two words that will always be used to remember the ski resort town of Thredbo following the 1997 landslide.

Half an hour before midnight on July 30, the village in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains was overcome by 100 tonnes of earth. The noise was described as sounding like an approaching freight train.

WATCH: Stuart Diver on 60 Minutes

The thundering mud destroyed two lodges and ultimately claimed the lives of 18 people in one of the worst disasters Australia has seen.

Among the rubble, there was only one survivor. Stuart Diver, then 27, miraculously managed to survive three days before his rescue.

While the world gathered in hope for the tragedy, Channel Nine’s veteran journalist Tara Brown was on the scene.

Tara was one of the first on the ground to cover the tragedy. (Credit: 60 Minuteds)

“The initial call out was to go, go, go,” Tara recalls exclusively to New Idea. She was one of the first on the ground to cover the tragedy.

Having grown up visiting family in nearby Jindabyne, Tara had a special warmth for the mountainous region.

“It felt closer to home,” recalls Tara who was working with A Current Affair and Today on Saturday when she got the call that a major disaster had occurred.

Upon arrival at the disaster zone, Tara described the scene as “fraught”.

“It felt closer to home,” recalls Tara. (Credit: 60 Minutes)

Part of a road embankment had slid down an incredibly steep hillside into the snowfield town. The landslide pushed the Carinya Lodge off its foundations and onto Bimbadeen Lodge at high speed. It buried those in its path under metres of concrete and rubble.

Residents who evaded the landslide desperately scrambled to rescue those trapped under the debris.

But the harsh environment, as well as the steep incline of the hill and instability of the land, meant that first responders were advised to hold back until specialist teams could assess the damage.

“In those early hours [rescuers] heard people crying out for help and couldn’t get them. It bred a level of frustration and anger,” says Tara, explaining TV and photographs failed to convey the extent of the destruction.

As the hours agonisingly rolled by many lost hope that anyone would be rescued at all. Paramedic Paul Featherstone, however, remained optimistic.

Sally and Stuart Diver were among those trapped. Stuart was the only survivor. (Credit: 60 Minutes)

Nearly three days after the initial disaster, rescuers heard sounds from beneath the rubble. It was Stuart Diver. He was trapped two metres underground under three concrete slabs.

“That was extraordinary news,” says Tara, “I remember talking to Paul Featherstone and I said to him ‘do you still have hope?’ And he said, ‘yes of course’.”

Paul sat with Stuart for over 11 hours as rescuers worked to free him.

“When [Stuart] was rescued, there was a huge cheer that went up. It was fantastic,” says Tara.

“I saw Paul after and he said, ‘see I told you’,” she smiles.

Following the disaster, the town needed to rebuild. (Credit: 60 Minutes)

“Morale and energy was boosted by that amazing rescue.”

But sadly, the good news came to an end with Stuart’s rescue. Over the next week, eighteen bodies were recovered from the debris, including Stuart’s wife Sally Diver.

Following the disaster, the town needed to rebuild.

Tara, who has since covered many tragedies, including the September 11 terror attacks on New York City and the 2005 London bombings, admits she still feels sadness when she returns to Thredbo.

“To see all those people working so hard, meeting the families of those who died, I am reminded of a very sad time. “But I feel that I can only own a little bit of that,” she says.

Five years ago, Tara met with Stuart Diver to discuss the anniversary.

“He is the poster boy for resilience, and strength, and you see that not just in surviving Thredbo but the life he’s lived since then.”

The latest issue of New Idea is out now.

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