Death on the Gateway

01.02.2011

tags: Crash investigation, bus crash, Queensland Police, Boondall,

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Death on the Gateway
By Sergeant Simon Lamerton, Queensland Police
September 2000, pp.185-200.

The following extract is from an article on the investigation into one of Queensland’s worst fatal traffic accidents in which 12 people lost their lives.

The crash occurred on the Gateway Arterial Road Brisbane on 24 October 1994. The road was constructed in the 1980s as a solution to the problems of traffic movement on the eastern side of the city. To call it a road is really a misnomer as it is actually a highway with a then speed limit of 100kph for most of its length, with the imposing Gateway Bridge as its central feature.

During its early years there were an extraordinarily high number of fatal and serious traffic incidents on this road due to various factors. Improvements to the road over a period of time reduced these serious incidents to the point that the Gateway Road was considered no more dangerous than the other highways in the vicinity of Brisbane.

However, the events of Monday 24 October 1994, shattered the improved safety record of the Gateway Road in one terrible disaster.

News of the accident

I was working day shift and at about 10.45am Police Operations telephoned the office and advised us of a bus crash on the Gateway Arterial Road at Boondall and that there was little feedback from the scene. They did know that there were at least several fatalities and it was believed that a truck and several cards may have also been involved. They added that the Police Inspector at the scene had declared a state of emergency.

I recall hanging up the phone and telling the others in the office that they should forget whatever they had planned for the rest of the day as ‘Mount Tamborine’ had happened again.

I was referring to the incident on Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast Hinterland during September 1990, in which a tourist coach rolled over killing eleven elderly passengers. It was ironic how correct I actually was when I made this statement.

The scene

The entrances to the Gateway Road were road-blocked and we entered via Bracken Ridge. The road was deserted as by now all traffic had been cleared and we decided it was safer to approach the scene going down the southbound lanes. We knew the incident was on the northbound lanes and we felt this approach would lessen the chance of meeting ambulances leaving the scene. I have always found it eerie driving along a completely empty arterial road as you approach a serious accident and this occasion was no exception.

As we approached the scene the first and most striking vision was of three or four rescue helicopters  on the road. I looked beyond them and saw at least five or six fire appliances and approximately 10 to 15 ambulances. I didn’t bother counting them. There were many private cars parked on both sides of the road for probably one hundred metres around the scene. These cars belonged to the people driving on the road who either witnessed this horrific event or drove upon it.

There were literally hundreds of people at the scene comprising police, ambulance, fire brigade, medivac teams and civilians. In the midst of them I could see the rear of a green and white bus lying on its passenger side down an embankment on the western edge of the northbound lanes.

We parked our vehicles and approached Inspector Kane who was the Police Commander in control at the scene. She gave us a brief outline of the incident as far as she was aware at that stage. The tourist coach was from Maryborough and was taking a group of elderly widows on a day shopping trip to the Logan Hyperdome on the southern edge of Brisbane. It was heading south and suddenly veered to the right for no apparent reason through the centre median strip onto the northbound lanes. It then rolled onto its side and slid across those lanes and down an embankment. Miraculously it had not hit any vehicles travelling north. She said there was at least 10 dead and the majority of those were still in the bus.

 The bus

I made my way through the emergency vehicles to the far side of the scene and then began to walk back through a triage area set up on the western embankment. There were many elderly ladies lying or sitting in this area and every one of them was injured, most severely. Many were wrapped in silver thermal blankets to lessen shock and it struck me how quiet the scene was. No-one was screaming or moaning, the emergency personnel were working in a very orderly manner and the whole area had an almost surreal feeling.

Inspecting the bus

I went to the bus and peered in through one of the two open roof escape hatches that were now at eye level. The view inside was one of total destruction and carnage. There were groups of dead women piled on top of each other in heaps with personal belongings from handbags scattered everywhere. All of the survivors had been removed and there was no one inside apart from the dead.

The interior of the bus was totally silent and thinking back I know why people whisper when they visit cemeteries or old battlefields. I felt like an intruder in a place that now belonged to the dead ...

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