World News – UA – West Gate Bridge tragedy: « My first reaction was that this was an emergency drill »


For many, the West Gate Bridge is a vital link between city and suburb, a link that has always existed, sturdy and carrying thousands of Victorians every day But it is a bridge with a sad story, especially when it collapsed 50 years ago in a twist of concrete and steel

It was a shocking workplace disaster and 35 of the 80 men who went to work on the bridge that day died in what is now known as Australia’s worst industrial disaster

By this time, Station Officer Peter Dent was having lunch at the local station and was then serving as what was then called a Station Officer for the Victorian-era civilian ambulance service when the call intercom came from the control room The district officer said there was a « downed bridge with about 80 men on site » as the disaster bell began ringing throughout the station

Peterr recalls his shock upon hearing the call « My first reaction was that this was an emergency drill »

But it was not « I was informed urgently of the reality of the situation and we had to attend I loaded this medical equipment in the back of my ambulance, we made a quick departure for the disaster scene We arrived at the bridge; ascene that, from this first glance and my participation in the hours to follow, would stay with me for the duration of my life « 

Arriving at the scene, Peter did not see the solid bridge that many Victorians embraced as a sign of progress that challenged his personal experiences, one of the medical emergencies and devastating bushfires « I was 24 at the time, » he said, « I could only describe the scene in front of us as something I had seen in a war movie: twisted wreckage, smoke and calls for help »

Joseph Ozelis, who had quit his job as an ambulance driver a few months earlier to become a rescuer at the West Gate Bridge construction site, was also on site Unfortunately, he was one of the many casualties that day

Despite all the activity, Peter clearly remembers some people through the fog of an emergency Speaking of one person on the scene who needed and got medical help, « to this day I wonder if this person survived and if personally I could have done more for him « In partnership with a policeman to locate people and provide help, Peter still wonders » so many years if this policeman is still alive and remembers our association ”

He remembers the event with gratitude, saying, « This massive operation exemplified man’s compassion for man and brought out the very finest of the many rescuers who helped ». searching for people all over the site – a muddy and grim task – Peter says: “We had a tomato sandwich and a cup of tea in our hands Looking around our supplier was an Army officer from the Hi God bless him! I had eaten little lunch and missed breakfast so I ate the welcome sandwich and sipped tea and the salvos always live with me in great respect and love « 

At the end of his shift, Peter « was sent back to the ambulance headquarters, where we cleaned up From there we went home to our impatient families, all family members are very grateful that we ourselves, unlike so many others that day, made it home safely »

On behalf of everyone at Ambulance Victoria, we thank all of our agents who witnessed the incident, many of whom are currently members of our Association of Retired Ambulance Service (RAAV) We honor your commitment and care about this which would have been a difficult day serving your community

We would also like to acknowledge the dedication of the Victoria Police Force, Victoria Fire Department, St. John Ambulance and Civil Defense (now SES) Salvation Army, medics, padres and many voluntary organizations that have worked tirelessly to support the rescue efforts

Our condolences to the many families who were closest that day and saw their lives changed forever

West Gate Bridge, Melbourne

World News – UA – West Gate Bridge Tragedy: « My first reaction was that this was an emergency exercise  »


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