Debbie Laycock, who was seriously injured in the Kempsey bus crash in 1989, is angry the crash site at Clybucca is on one of the many sections that still isn’t dual highway 20 years after the disaster.
Debbie Laycock, who was seriously injured in the Kempsey bus crash in 1989, is angry the crash site at Clybucca is on one of the many sections that still isn’t dual highway 20 years after the disaster. Cathy Adams

Reliving Kempsey horror crash

LISMORE mother Debbie Laycock may have survived Australia’s worst road accident near Kempsey two decades ago, but today she can’t fathom why the Pacific Highway upgrade still isn’t finished.

“I think it is an absolute travesty that the road is still not fixed,” she said.

“That was the worst accident in Australian history. There were so many lives lost ... what does it take?”

Ms Laycock was trapped for hours in one of the two buses that collided head-on on the Pacific Highway at Clybucca, just north of Kempsey, at 3.30am on December 22, 1989.

“It was horrific. I woke completely disorientated and in total darkness,” she said.

“People were screaming and there was a strong smell of diesel. We thought everything would burst into flames.”

Thirty-five people perished in the accident, which came just two months after 21 people died in the Cowper bus crash. Like so many other passengers, she was heading home for Christmas.

“It never goes away,” she said. “It had a catastrophic effect on my life.

“I had no sense of time, but I remember the rescue guys. They were amazing and I have nothing but praise for them.

“It must have been a like a scene from hell, yet they were so calm and reassuring.

“They kept up my sense of humour and kept telling me, ‘don’t worry, we’ll get you out’.”

Until the accident the talented young potter had a promising career in ceramics, having studied at the National Art School.

“The accident put an end to all that,” she said.

Ms Laycock considers herself one of the lucky ones – having suffered ‘only’ a broken pelvis, a broken leg and a dislocated hip.

“So many were worse off than me and I kept thinking ‘what have I got to complain about’. Physically, I was out of hospital in a couple of weeks,” she said.

“I had no counselling, which in hindsight probably wasn’t good. It was really tough.

“I’ve now got three beautiful kids and I’ve retrained. I keep really healthy these days and I try to stay creative too.”



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