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The girl who became Thredbo disaster’s Stuart Diver’s world

TWO decades ago, the world held its breath. From amid the devastation of the Thredbo landslide, came the faintest of cries for help.

It was August 2, 1997, and rescuers were almost three days in to a grim search for 19 people missing in a landslide.

At 11.35pm on July 30, more than 100 tonnes of earth liquefied and collapsed at the Australian alpine resort.

As the Alpine Way road went with it, and hurtled downhill, the Carinya ski lodge was swept off its foundations. It gathered force, crossed a road and the earth and debris slammed into Bimbadeen ski lodge.

A whoosh. A crack. It sounded, witnesses said, like a freight train, or an explosion.

Then silence. And sirens. And as dawn came, horror.

Sub-zero conditions. A disaster site of still-shifting rubble. And somewhere underneath, 19 people.

Rescue workers give the thumbs up after making contact with Stuart Diver beneath the rubble in 2007.
Rescue workers give the thumbs up after making contact with Stuart Diver beneath the rubble in 2007. New Corp

They found the first body at 4.20pm. It was slow, hideous work. Torturous physically and mentally. And as the hours ticked by and turned to days, it became a search for bodies, not survivors.

On day three, as the rescue equipment fell silent for yet another check for life in a search where the body count stood at four, hope was all but extinguished.

“Can anyone hear me?” a rescue worker called.

Stuart is pulled from rubble after 65 hours trapped.
Stuart is pulled from rubble after 65 hours trapped. News Corp

And then, a muffled response. “I can hear you,” said Stuart Diver.

Asked if he was injured he replied: “No, but my feet are bloody cold.”

He was trapped for 65 hours, and became a symbol of hope amid the heartbreak when he emerged as sole survivor of the landslide which claimed 18 lives, including that of his wife Sally. He lost her in the darkness.

Twenty years on, Stuart, 47, has relived how he survived to live again, love again, lose again, and how his daughter became the centre of his world.

Stuart and Sally, who dies in the landslide.
Stuart and Sally, who dies in the landslide. Channel 9

“She’s a pretty amazing little girl,” he tells Channel 9’s 60 Minutes in an interview to air on Sunday night.

Reliving that terrifying night two decades again, Stuart swallows hard at the memory.

“She (Sally) started screaming and I tried to stop the water going into her mouth and I couldn’t do it,” he says.

Surviving, he says “just got so brutally hard. But the human mind is an amazing thing”.

Life has dealt him more blows since: he found love again, but lost his second wife, Rosanna Cossettini, to breast cancer in March, 2015.

Finding love again: Stuart and Rosanna Cossettini, who he lost in 2015.
Finding love again: Stuart and Rosanna Cossettini, who he lost in 2015. Channel 9

The pair married in 2002. They found out she was sick just a week after they returned home from their honeymoon.

He had credited her with helping him through the loss of Sally, showing him how to love again.

Despite the darkest of times, being smashed twice by a double-dose of grief which at times left him sobbing in the shower, Diver made another conscious decision to survive.

“I mean you can sit here and be miserable and you know say ‘poor me, look what I’ve been through’. But at some point you have to make a decision ‘I’m going to live life’,” he says.

Life, today, is made joyful by the main woman in his life: daughter Alessia.

She was born in 2010, despite Stuart and Rosanna being told that because of her cancer treatment, children would not be possible.

“She is key to where I am right now,” Diver says.

60 Minutes airs on Channel 9 on Sunday at 8.45pm

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The girl who became Thredbo disaster’s Stuart Diver’s world