Australia's worst crash

The Advocate reported a plea to upgrade the highway to dual carriageway just days after the crash and 20 years on, the message remains the same.
The Advocate reported a plea to upgrade the highway to dual carriageway just days after the crash and 20 years on, the message remains the same.

AS families, rescuers and survivors of Australia’s worst road accident gather to mark the 20th anniversary of the crash, some are still angry that the section of road still has not been upgraded.

But others point to the steady progress being made on upgrading the Pacific Highway.

Twenty years ago today, 35 people lost their lives and another 41 were injured when two buses collided on the Pacific Highway at Clybucca Flat 12km north of Kempsey.

The two full tourist coaches collided head-on, killing both drivers instantly.

The impact snapped seats from their anchor bolts so that both seats and passengers were hurled about the vehicles with terrific force, trapping people and their luggage against the back of the bus.

The force of the impact left the McCafferty’s Sydney-bound coach in the cabin of the TransCity Brisbane-bound coach.

The accident triggered a major response from police, SES and volunteer rescuers, fire brigades and paramedics.

A fleet of air ambulances and helicopters carried injured people to hospitals at Kempsey, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Sydney.

A NSW Coroner’s inquiry into the coach collision found that the McCafferty’s driver fell asleep at the wheel.

The coroner renewed calls for a dual-carriageway highway between Newcastle and the Queensland border, following 21 deaths in the Cowper bus crash two months earlier.

The coroner also recommended research into coach seats, seat anchorages and seatbelts and better emergency exits for coaches.

Former Federal Member for Cowper, Garry Nehl, who had been campaigning for a dual-carriageway Pacific Highway from Hexham to the Queensland border since he first ran for Parliament in 1984, the Clybucca Bus Crash (and the preceding Cowper bus crash) are still vivid memories.

“I was in Canberra and Parliament was sitting,” Mr Nehl said.

“It is very clear in my memory – not only the people who died but the rescue workers, from the SES, the fire brigades and others who had done a tremendous job”.

Mr Nehl said he and the then Minister for Transport, Bob Brown, had tried but been unable to get a plane to visit Kempsey that day, but he and his wife had attended the memorial service in Kempsey.

“I’ve got no doubt it was instrumental in putting pressure on the both State and Federal governments to proceed.

“It had an immense impact on parliament.”

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