Qld flood inquest: ‘I could see his arms moving, he was trying to swim’
Brisbane Coroner’s Court yesterday was introduced to a series of high-tech Google Earth animations backed by funereal music, explaining the scope of the unfolding tragedy, writes Amanda Gearing, a freelance journalist in Brisbane.
Despite the 10 months of grieving for those lost in Queensland’s January floods, new evidence produced during the coronial inquest into the 22 deaths and three disappearances has revealed new shocks for the bereaved families.
Brisbane Coroner’s Court yesterday was introduced to a series of high-tech Google Earth animations backed by funereal music, explaining the scope of the unfolding tragedy, which swept away husbands, wives, children and grandparents in less than three hours on the afternoon of January 10 this year.
The court was also told of the extensive search for human remains, of 131 kilometres of creeks and rivers from Spring Bluff to Brisbane and hundreds of dams that were searched three times by police divers, 250 army personnel and 200 police.
Police are still searching for the three remaining missing people, James Perry, Dawn Radke and Christopher Face.
During the search, police also traced the owners of 834 cars found in the creek systems, to account for the owners.
Toowoomba man John Tyson, whose wife Donna and son Jordan, 13, both drowned, saw for the first time a video taken by a bystander of the torrent, who had unwittingly captured Jordan’s last living moments.
“It was not Donna because she could swim a bit. Jordan could not swim. He was alive. I could see his arms moving. He was trying to swim,” John Tyson said.
No tears escaped John Tyson’s eyes — he was on a mission yesterday to defend his wife’s honour after reading the police report to the coroner, which suggested that his wife drove into floodwater after her son told her “keep going it’s not that deep” and “stop being a pussy”.
In cross-examination by the Public Defender John Allen, police agreed that evidence from Blake, 11, about Jordan’s comments to his mother could have been made just after they left home on the other side of the CBD, not to the location where the car was finally swept away. It’s not a lot of consolation but it matters.
“Donna did not drive into floodwaters,” Tyson said. “I think the CCTV footage which showed the speed of the water rising has proved that.”
Tyson is also coming to terms with the chaos of emergency services, which were suddenly overwhelmed by a disaster simultaneously breaking out in the rural districts of Spring Bluff and Postmans Ridge, the town of Murphys Creek and multiple life-threatening emergencies across the city of Toowoomba.
Police gave evidence that calls to the police emergency room, which required swift water rescue could not be radioed to QFRS, instead requiring phone calls on the already-overloaded phone network. The court was told senior police who arrived at the scene where Donna and Jordan Rice were in peril realised it was too dangerous to attempt a rescue and left the scene to respond to other emergency calls.
But Tyson is not looking backwards but forwards to the improvements that need to be made to preserve lives in future. And he’ll sleep a little easier knowing he’s done his best to ensure that history records the deaths in his family as occurring due to a natural disaster, not to any negligence by his wife.
The inquest continues today and tomorrow before being adjourned to February 27 next year.January 10, 2011:
Steven Matthews, 56, and his wife Sandra Matthews, 46, of Spring Bluff were washed from their home beside Murphys Creek. Their bodies were found 2.1 and 2.3 kilometres downstream from the house.
Donna Rice and her son Jordan Rice, 13, of Toowoomba, were on the roof of their car when the car was washed off Kitchener Street Toowoomba. Donna’s body was located at Allied Mills in Toowoomba CBD. Jordan’s body was located beside East Creek south of Margaret Street.
Selwyn Schefe and his daughter Katie Schefe, 6, of Murphys Creek were swept from the tray of their utility in their front yard beside Murphys Creek. Selwyn’s body was found more than 49 kilometres downstream at Tarampa. Katie’s body was found 3.4 kilometres downstream from her home.
Sylvia Baillie, 72, of Postmans Ridge was inside her house backing onto Rocky Creek when the house was washed away. Her body was found on January 17, 14 kilometres downstream, in Harris Street, Grantham.
Bruce Warhurst, of Postmans Ridge, was last seen in his yard walking towards his house backing onto Gatton Creek. A short time later the home was broken apart and washed away.
James Perry, of Toowoomba, was last seen on top of his car after the vehicle stalled in floodwaters and was washed off the Warrego Highway into Lockyer Creek at Helidon. His body remains missing.
Bruce Marshall, of Grantham, was trapped in his house as the floodwater hit. His body was located on January 12 in his house at 1420 Gatton-Helidon Road, Grantham.
Reinskje “Regina” Van Der Werrf, of Grantham, was very old and used a walking frame. She was assisted onto a table but the water reached the guttering of the house. Her body was located in her house at 1380 Gatton-Helidon Road, Grantham.
Jean Gurr, of Grantham, was located deceased in her house at 1362 Gatton-Helidon Road, Grantham, on January 11.
Pauline Magner, Dawn Radke and their granddaughter Jessica Keep, 2, of Grantham. Dawn and Pauline were washed from the house. Pauline’s body was found in Lockyer Creek near Princess Street, Gatton on January 11. Dawn’s body remains missing. Jessica was in her mother’s arms when her mother nearly drowned and lost grip of her daughter. Jessica’s body was found 35 kilometres downstream of the family home.
Llync Jibson-Clark and her children Garry Jibson, 12, and Jocelyn Jibson, 5, of Grantham, died after the rural fire truck they were in was hit by fast-rising water in the driveway of their home at 1346 Gatton-Helidon Road at Grantham. All three deceased were located on January in the truck.
Christopher Face, Brenda Ross and her son Joshua Ross, of Grantham, were all in the brick home of Brenda and Christopher in Anzac Avenue at Grantham when fast-moving flood water struck the house and it collapsed and was washed away. The body of Christopher Face remains missing. The bodies of Brenda and Joshua Ross were found in open fields east of Grantham.
January 11, 2011:
Robert Bromage was driving across floodwaters at Spresser Gully on Karrabin–Rosewood Road near Rosewood, Ipswich when his vehicle was washed off the road. His body was found on January 12 in a creek at Karrabin.
Jesse Wickman, 4, was in a vehicle with her mother who was trying to the take her children to higher ground. They entered floodwaters at Minden, the car stalled and the children were placed on the roof. A QFRS officer put a buoyancy vest on Jesse and tied it to his vest but the child was swept from his grasp. Jesse’s body was located the same day, 500 metres downstream from where he disappeared.
January 12, 2011:
Robert Kelly, was driving from Toowoomba to Dalby when his vehicle was swept away by Myall Creek at Brymaroo.
January 13, 2011:
Van Toan Giang, entered floodwaters at Willawong to swim across to a farm where he worked. His body was found about two hours later in the floodwaters.