Families farewell cliff crash victims 60 years later

IT HAS taken more than 60 years, but Joyce Cruden has now said her "final goodbyes" to six of her relatives who were killed in a horrific car crash in Byron Bay.

On September 4, 1952, a car plummeted over the cliff at the Cape Byron Lighthouse, crashing into the ocean almost 100m below.

Both of Mrs Cruden's parents were killed, along with her five-year-old sister, her aunt and two of her cousins.

Mrs Cruden, nee Meredith, and her brothers Lindsay and Bruce Meredith, were also in the car but miraculously survived.

The siblings are now aged in their 60s and 70s, and last weekend returned to the scene of the crash that changed their lives forever.

Going back to the lighthouse was heart breaking for the whole family, Mrs Cruden said.

"There were tears - it was very emotional," she said.

"But it was something we'd been planning for quite a while.

"To be there as a family and say our final goodbyes was a really important thing for us.

"It was good for our children and grandchildren to understand ... we threw roses over the cliff and tried to work out exactly where it had happened."

At the time of the crash in 1952, The Northern Star reported that a five-year-old boy, "blood-stained and badly injured, clawed his way 200 feet up the steep cliff face to bring help".

That boy was Bruce Meredith, who is now 68.

Strong winds and rough seas had muffled the sound of the crash, meaning lighthouse keepers working just metres away were unaware of the tragedy.

"He pointed towards the smashed car, awash in rough seas, and collapsed unconscious," the Star reported.

"Within 30 minutes hundreds of people were on the scene.

"Two doctors, lashed together with ropes, were lowered to the aid of the injured children ... (the children) were lifted inches at a time up the dangerous, wind-lashed cliff face."Many rescuers risked death to get the children to safety.

"Police believe the car ... was making a turn around the lighthouse keeper's garage, 20 feet from the safety rail.

"They believe the car stalled and ran backwards through the fence.

"Amid flying wreckage, the occupants of the car were hurled out at intervals down the cliff face."

Mrs Cruden, who was 12 at the time, has vivid memories of the crash.

"My aunt was trying to put the car into gear, but she couldn't get it to go in, she was really trying ... we were rolling back and back, and just kept rolling," she said.

"We went over the cliff.

"The next thing I remember I woke up on the rocks at the bottom.

"I was pretty badly hurt. I had a badly broken leg and wrist and head injuries.

"Going back to the lighthouse was about closure for us. We also went to the Mullumbimby cemetery to visit mum and dad's graves and put flowers on them."

After the crash, Mrs Cruden and her brothers were sent to an orphanage in Sydney.

She said they were allowed to stay together, "which was so important" because they needed each other.

"We're all married now with kids and grandkids, so I think our parents would have been proud of us," she said.

Topics:  byron bay cliff crash editors picks rescue

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