BLESSING AND JOY: Bus crash survivor Glenn Askew (left) says thank you to former Grafton SES executive cfficer Bryan Robbins and former Maclean Shire SES controller Barry Essex at yesterday’s ceremony at Cowper. Photo JoJo Newby
BLESSING AND JOY: Bus crash survivor Glenn Askew (left) says thank you to former Grafton SES executive cfficer Bryan Robbins and former Maclean Shire SES controller Barry Essex at yesterday’s ceremony at Cowper. Photo JoJo Newby

Cowper SES heroes recognised at last

THE Cowper Bus Crash happened 25 years ago today, but for survivor Glenn Askew that day is today, yesterday and tomorrow.

Prior to the accident, Mr Askew, 24, was a talented concert pianist.

On October 20, 1989, he was supposed to be on a flight out of Sydney to a concert he was playing at Mission Beach, but had boarded the bus when his flight was cancelled.

"It was a pilot strike - there were no flights - that's why there were so many coaches on the road at the time," he said.

When the bus and a truck collided between 3.50am and 4am, the resulting scene was one he could only describe as hell.

Twenty-one people died in the crash, and 22 others were injured.

"When the accident happened I remembered doing a couple of somersaults and then coming to an end stuck under a chair - I crawled out from the side of the coach," he said.

"The first person on site was an off-duty nurse. About 25 minutes, 30 minutes after that, the first orange jacket arrived.

"I watched them, it wasn't just the SES it was everyone, but the SES are special because they're volunteers.

"They were guys and girls who just got home from work and gone to sleep, then woken up (to pagers and phone calls saying) 'You're on duty, get going'."

Mr Askew and his wife travelled to Cowper from Sydney yesterday morning to give a very personal and emotional thank you to the volunteers who helped him in his time of need, at a NSW Premier's Awards

ceremony for the SES volunteers who responded to the rescue and recovery.

The private ceremony was the result of a hard-fought battle by former Grafton SES executive director Bryan Robbins and Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, with the support of The Daily Examiner, to have the selfless volunteers' efforts recognised.

Mr Robbins said if any goodness could be identified from such sadness, it was the manner in which the emergency services responded "so magnificently under such extreme pressure and stress".

"Your actions on the day, and since then, your remarkable resillience and stoicism has made us all so very proud of you, and worthy of our greatest support and recognition," he said.

And while the accident severely stunted Mr Askew's career as a classical pianist - he had up to 19 operations on his left hand and five on his right after the crash - he said he counted himself lucky that he could say thank you.

"I had muscles that were split in half, but I was one of the lucky ones," Mr Askew said.

"There were 21 people - their story finished that day.

"To be able to honour these people is truly a blessing and joy."

And as a person who was in the middle of it all, he wanted to let the volunteers know they were heroes.

"To each and every volunteer, you are a true Aussie, and a hero for what you did that day and every other day you went out, but most importantly for me that day."

SES volunteer Barry Essex, who was Maclean's Chief Controller at the time, was one of the 33 volunteers to be awarded for his contribution. Mr Essex said he was proud of his fellow volunteers, with whom he shared a concrete bond.



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