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1989 Road transport, December 22, Kempsey


Two full tourist coaches collided head-on in the early morning at Clybucca Flat, 12km north of Kempsey, leaving 35 dead and 41 injured. The coaches concertinaed into each other, killing both drivers instantly. The impact snapped seats from their anchor bolts so that both seats & passengers were hurled about the vehicles with terrific force, which also trapped people & their luggage against the back of the bus.

The force of the impact left the McCafferty's Sydney-bound (south) coach in the cabin of the TransCity Brisbane-bound (north) coach. The Sydney coach was forced 5 rows back into the other. The accident triggered a major immediate response as police, SES & volunteer rescuers, fire brigades & paramedics attended the accident.

A fleet of air ambulances & helicopters carried the injured to hospitals at Kempsey, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour & Sydney. A NSW Coroner's inquiry into the coach collision found that the McCafferty driver fell asleep at the wheel. The driver failed to negotiate a left-hand bend on the highway & the coach crossed to the wrong side & collided with the TransCity coach.

The coroner renewed calls for a dual-carriageway highway between Newcastle & the Queensland border, following 21 deaths in a coach/semi-trailer accident at Cowper, north of Grafton in October, 1990 (see ID 5319). The coroner also recommended research into coach seats, seat anchorages & seatbelts. Better emergency exits for coaches were also recommended, as rescuers were unable to enter the wreckage immediately because the exits were 2.4m above the ground.

The McCafferty coach travelled in a straight line for the curve (on the highway) & there was no indication that the driver had applied his brakes or dim the headlights, the coroner found. Neither coach was speeding at the time of the crash, & no mechanical faults were found in either vehicle, the coroner said.

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