A LARGE group of local school students were lucky to escape without serious injury when the bus they were travelling to Canberra on was involved in a frightening accident last Thursday, October 25.
The community was greatly alarmed when news of the bus crash was received on the Thursday morning, but all were soon assured that the Bombala High School students and their teachers sustained no major injuries.
The group of 33 Year 8 and 9 students were on their way to a day tour of the Australian National University as part of their career studies.
The group departed from the high school on a Cooma Coaches bus at around 7.30am with their accompanying teachers, Warwick Long and Rebecca Robson.
It was when the group had just crossed the Numeralla River before Bredbo that the near disaster occurred, with beliefs the driver experienced some kind of black out or loss of consciousness around this point.
The bus began to drift onto the wrong side of the road, passing off the bitumen and driving into the rough ground alongside the road.
Meanwhile, Mr Long had been watching the road from his position approximately four seats back, and noticed the bus veer, quickly making his way to the front despite the lurching and bumping the vehicle was now experiencing.
By this time the bus had begun heading back towards the road and a ditch on the inside of the approaching guardrail.
Thankfully Mr Long managed to grab the wheel and get his foot to the brake, finally bringing the bus to a standstill on a steep angle on the other side of the guard rail, just off the right hand side of the road.
As the photographs illustrate, if Mr Long had not moved so quickly in bringing the bus to a stop, it could have easily overturned, in which case there would most certainly have been serious injuries.
As it was, the two experienced teachers calmed the students on board and after an initial check of their condition, had them disembark and rest on the nearby hill.
Fortunately a nurse was travelling by and stopped to assist, while the Cooma Police and an Ambulance arrived on the scene shortly afterwards.
No injuries were apparent, although one student complaining of a sore neck after striking his head on a window was transported via ambulance to the Cooma Hospital to be released shortly afterwards.
Mr Long also contacted the high school straight after alerting authorities to the accident, with Principal of the Bombala High School, Philip Steel taking immediate action.
While staff in Bombala hurriedly contacted the students’ parents and notified the rest of the school at assembly, Mr Steel called the principals of the Monaro High and Cooma Public Schools who kindly went straight the scene.
They brought with them a school counsellor, and all assisted Mr Long and Miss Robson in further settling the students before Mr Steel also arrived on the scene.
“This was a great effort from the school community in Cooma, and we were thankful for their help,” Mr Steel said.
When alternative transport arrived and the children had been cleared of physical injury, the group returned to Cooma and spent some time relaxing in the park and enjoying some refreshments at McDonald’s.
They then came home to Bombala to waiting parents and staff, with several counsellors, including the District Guidance Officer, being made available for those students who wished to speak with them.
While this was indeed a distressing incident, it is clear that the accident could have been far worse, and that all involved handled the situation with great competence.
“We have been very lucky, and can all be thankful for Warwick’s quick action, which basically saved the day,” Mr Steel said.
“The students themselves have been tremendous throughout the whole experience, and all of the parents and the community have been fabulous. We are all thankful for the outcome, and proud of how everyone has looked after each other.”
Meanwhile the highway was temporarily closed 20 kilometres north of Cooma while the bus was salvaged on Thursday, with an investigation into the cause of the accident continuing.