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Horror bus crash survivors return to SA’s outback

Abbie Tiller

Thirty years after Luke Stephens and Simon Holt survived a deadly bus crash in remote South Australia, they’ve been reunited with a community of “heroes”.

They were among a group of 40 Melbourne school students on a trip to explore Central Australia, when tragedy struck along the remote William Creek Road, 80 kilometres from Coober Pedy.

“The outback can be a cruel beast when things go wrong,” said Luke, who has teamed up with Simon, who sat across the aisle from him on that frightening day in 1993.

The pair, in conjunction with Victoria’s Mount Lilydale Mercy College are filming a documentary to recognise the 30 year anniversary of the horror crash, and to honour their friend, Elizabeth Calcagno, who was tragically killed that day.

“It’s also a tribute to the Coober Pedy community, who accommodated all of us like we were family,” Luke said.

“Stranded in the middle of the outback, there were war-like injuries, we were digging trapped people out from under the bus with tent poles and whatever we could find.

Luke Stephens visits the spot on William Creek Road where he and his school mates were involved in a fatal bus crash.

“There were no phones, we couldn’t make contact with anyone. We pitched tents on the roadside, believing we could be there for 24 hours, we tourniquet injuries and made a pact that no one would be left alone. We sang and held the hands of those who were trapped.”

To their relief, a passing truck collected their injured bus driver and took him into town where he raised the alarm. The response from the outback community is something Simon and Luke will never forget.

“Coober Pedy Mine Rescuers came out in their own cars, some with shorts on, climbing over glass to get under the bus and help free those trapped,” Luke said.

“We discovered when we went back to Coober Pedy, that seven ambulance vehicles got punctures on the way to the crash scene.”

As they were reunited with rescuers and locals who have vivid and traumatic recollections of the day, the surviving pair felt blessed and in awe of the community.

“The people in town, they prepared mattresses and food for us all. We didn’t have our families there, but the whole community accommodated us.”

He said the emergency services crews were not only voluntary heroes, “people like Andy Sheils have given 40 years of service, which also involves fundraising to keep the service going and for valuable equipment like jaws-of-life.”

Luke paid tribute to “Liz”, who he said was bright, chirpy, quirky and fun, and said plans were in place to erect a memorial plaque in her honour at the crash scene.

“You don’t often make money with films, but if we do it’ll be going towards Mine Rescue and The Royal Flying Doctors.”

He hopes the documentary will play a part in helping people heal and shedding light on the amazing work of country emergency services.

If anyone has information, or recollections from the Coober Pedy bus crash, you can make contact by emailing [email protected]



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