Nepal, December 1978.
All was going well on the narrow mountainous highway. For a change, Lemming was ahead and leading by about 50 metres. I saw a local bus cross his path and go straight over the edge down to the river below. Blue immediately pulled up. It was only then did I see a car on the road that had collided with that bus which had a full load of passengers. It was now 50 metres below, lying on its roof with the back end in the river. It had done a complete somersault. The bus driver bailed out before his bus went over and made himself scarce.
The crew and punters from both buses clambered down the steep escarpment to the crashed bus. Its engine was still running and in gear. The drive shaft had separated from the differential and was flapping all over the place. Blue and some of the punters climbed into the crashed bus searching for passengers and shut down the motor.
Everybody pitched in and small parties of punters and crew were carrying mangled people up to the roadway. Many of the injured had compound fractures to shattered limbs. The most haunting thing of all was that none made a sound, no crying or screaming. In later years as a police officer, I attended a few similar scenes of mass casualties where screaming and crying was the norm. One man on the riverside, sitting against the bus, was alive but with a terminal head injury. It was obvious that he was beyond help. We of course were unaware of how many had been flung into the river or if any were trapped beneath the bus.
After helping with several makeshift stretcher carries to the road, I came across a tiny woman with a crushed leg who had only one concern – that of a lost thong that she was searching for. I pulled her onto my back and climbed the steep escarpment to the road. I can only imagine what pain my rough handling caused, but not a whimper came from her.
Fortunately, amongst our punters were Kiwi and Dutch nurses who worked on the injured and dying in the makeshift medical centres of the downstairs areas of the two buses. While this was going on a truckload of English tourists on a kayak expedition stopped alongside Snot – and incredibly they all were doctors. They quickly stepped in and worked alongside our nurses with one directing us to unload their surgical box. After digging through their stuff, we dragged out a trunk size box marked ‘surgical’, now tooled up they really went to work.
At around the same time a jeep pulled up near Lemming and a group of Chinese doctors poured out, immediately getting in amongst the injured Nepalese. When the police and military turned up in their smart clean uniforms, not one ventured off the road to help. The Top Deck crowd, with some locals, carried out the entire rescue. The officials did however commandeer an open truck to carry the injured and dying to the hospital in Pokhara.
Once all the patients were safely on the road or inside our buses, we gathered seat cushions from the wrecked bus and placed them in the bed of the truck for the injured. As we busied ourselves with the seats, police officers ran up waving their arms and yelling at us. I had no idea what their problem was until one said in English “No, evidence, no, evidence.” He got a short blunt reply while we continued our work and they went back to being spectators. I returned to the riverbank and checked on the bloke at the bus with the idea of organising a carry to the road, but he was dead as expected. I’m glad we didn’t put him through more pain by dragging him up that hill.
After everything possible was done for the injured, we loaded them onto the truck and away they went towards Pokhara, we were never to hear of them or the crash again. The two lots of doctors climbed back into their vehicles and went their separate ways, as we did. We had an appointment with a BBQ on a Himalayan beach.
That night at Trishuli Beach, I found dried blood all over my hands and forearms. Al pointed out a similar mess on the back of my head, neck and back. It must have come from the tiny woman with the smashed leg and the missing thong. I hadn’t realised the extent of her injuries and that she lost so much blood, mostly over me.
I sat in the river and got to work washing the blood off, while next to me the sack of beer cooled. Dried blood was a bugger to get off, and I was red raw by the time I was finished. Some of the lads got the fire started for our BBQ but things were pretty flat, unlike other nights where laughter, shrieking and skylarking were the norm. Everybody did their bit and we settled down to a pretty subdued evening – after the dramatic events of the day, no one was in the mood for a party.
Nepal, December 1978.