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It was an emotional moment when former SES officer Bryan Robins met up (after 30 years) with crash survivor Natisha Pitt. Natisha was only 14 at the time of the accident, which claimed her mother and brother. Image: Lynne Mowbray

Cowper remembered 30 years on

Lynne Mowbray|

A commemoration service was held at 12 noon on Sunday at the Memorial Garden in Cowper, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Cowper bus tragedy.

The accident involving a Sunliner coach and truck on the Pacific Highway on 20 October 1989, claimed 21 lives.

Emergency service workers, survivors and family and friends of those who lost their lives on that day, gathered to pay their respects and support each other, 30 years on from what is said to be the Clarence Valleys darkest day.

Police chaplain Pastor Greg Holder led the memorial service; acknowledging those who unselfishly gave of themselves on that day and paying respect to those who lost their lives.

It was evident that despite being 30 years since the tragedy, for some the memory is still very raw.

Crash survivor Angela Ormesher who passed away in July 2016, lost both her children, Gavin and Jannine in the accident. 

Angela’s sister Elaine Bradley attended the memorial service on Sunday, and placed photos of her loved ones at the memorial.

“My niece Jannine and I were very close and she lived with us at one stage,” Elaine said.

“Before leaving on the bus for their family holiday to Airlie Beach in Queensland, Elaine said that Jannine handed her an engagement ring.

“Jannine said, ‘Auntie Elaine will you look after this ring for me, ‘cause I’m going to get engaged when I get back,” Elaine said.

“She was going to tell her mother while she was away, that she was going to get engaged – and of course it never happened,” she said.

Elaine said that she has never taken that engagement ring off her finger.

She said that Angela had tried for years to have her two children and they were born a year apart.

“I just think that she should have had so many little grandchildren running around by now,” she said.

At the memorial service in 2014 to mark the 25th anniversary of the crash, Angela Ormesher got to meet the truck driver’s daughter Kellie Redenbach for the first time. It was a very emotional meeting between a woman who had lost her only two children along with several other family members travelling on the coach and the daughter of the truck driver who was also killed in the accident.

Kellie returned again this year with her husband Bill.

“This is the second time I’ve been here,” Kellie said.

“It’s my way of paying my respects to everyone.

“I got to meet Angela Ormesher last time I was here (25th anniversary) and she was such a kind person.

“She embraced me and told me not to worry. I definitely didn’t expect that kind of reception from anyone.

“To have her embrace me and tell me it was okay; it meant a lot.

“Coming back here this time is definitely still no easier, but definitely worth the trip,” she said.

Kelli said that she never got to say goodbye to her father and so by attending the memorial it helped her to say goodbye.

Former SES officer Bryan Robins arrived at Sunday’s memorial service with a bunch of flowers for bus crash survivor Natisha Pitt who he’d heard was attending the service this year.

Natisha was 14 years-old at the time of the accident in which she lost both her mother Elizabeth Wisely and brother Shaun.

Bryan said that on that day Natisha was distressed and asking where her family were and he just couldn’t bring himself to tell her that they were both dead.

“I guess it hurt me for a long time to think that I didn’t tell her and that played on my mind for 30 years; whether I’d done the right thing,” Bryan said.

“It hurt me that that little girl had to carry that fear and that worry until she found out.

“So 30 years on, she’s flown down from Cairns and she’s a middle aged married mum and it was a wonderful moment for me that we got to meet today and we are going to stay in touch.

“I told her that I was sorry that I couldn’t tell her about her mum and brother and she said that she understood and in a way she was glad that she wasn’t told then and there.

“I’ve had dreams and nightmares about that girl for a long time and other responders will tell you similar stories of how it played on their emotions too,” he said.

The Cowper memorial – Sunday’s memorial service was a time for friends, family and emergency service workers to reflect and their pay respect to the 21 people who lost their lives 30 years ago, when a Sunliner coach and a truck collided on the Pacific Highway. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Former SES officer Bryan Robins arrives with flowers for a crash survivor that he assisted 30 years ago. Image: Lynne Mowbray
It was a hard day for former paramedic Robin Smith – ‘no amount of training can prepare you for what we had to deal with that day’ – Robin Smith. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Police Chaplain Pastor Greg Holder led the service. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Pastor Greg Holder holds up an engagement ring which belonged to Jannine Ormesher who was killed in the bus crash. He encouraged those attending to tell the ones we love how much they mean to us, as some never get a chance to say goodbye. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Sunday’s Memorial service at Cowper to mark the 30th anniversary of the Cowper bus tragedy. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Kellie Redenbach is comforted by her husband Bill. Kellie’s father David Hutchins was the truck driver who was killed in the accident. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Daughter of the truck driver involved in the Cowper accident Kellie Redenbach and her husband Bill pay their respects. Image: Lynne Mowbray
A tribute to some of the Ormesher family. L-R Angela (who survived the crash and passed away in 2016), Angela’s son Gavin and daughter Jannine and Gavins girlfiend Vicki-Lea McGrath. Image: Lynne Mowbray