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Sole survivor of Australian landslide wished for death

August 27, 1997

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ For a moment, when he realized his wife Sally lay dead beside him in the icy mud of a landslide, Stuart Diver wanted to die too.

```Get it over with,′ I thought. ’If you’re going to take me, just do it. Cover me up and make it quick,‴ said Diver, the sole survivor of a July 30 slide at a ski lodge that killed 18 people, including two Americans.

But the 27-year-old ski instructor also credits the memory of his wife for providing him with the spirit to survive 65 hours buried alive.

``In my heart, I know that it was Sally’s will, her resilience of spirit, that gave me the strength I needed to hold out, to hold on, when all logic told me hope had vanished,″ he said.

In interviews published and broadcast Tuesday, Diver gave the first detailed accounts of his ordeal, which started when a landslide swept one ski lodge onto another at the Thredbo Alpine Village in southeast Australia’s Snowy Mountains. Authorities suspect a stream had eroded the hillside.

Diver survived three days trapped in the icy water, with frostbitten feet as his only serious injuries. He believes he has yet to confront his grief, however _ and plans a return to Thredbo.

That night at the lodge, after dinner and an early evening, a noise ``like an explosion″ awoke the couple, and a second later the world around them collapsed.

Everything was pitch black and choked with dust. Both survived the initial impact, and for a few seconds, Diver struggled to help his sobbing wife, whose body was pinned to the bed and whose head pointed down the mountain.

``She was screaming, and then I heard the water coming,″ Diver told the Channel Seven of the agonizing minutes as his wife drowned. ``That was it. The screaming stopped.″

Trapped in a cavity barely man-sized next to the body of his dead wife, death for him seemed ``a pretty good option.″

``It was hell. I am scared of the dark and I’m claustrophobic,″ Diver said.

But anguish turned to anger and that, along with the knowledge his relatives waited in hope outside, steeled his determination to survive.

``I couldn’t let them down, not when I had come so far,″ he said.

As time wore on, Diver gradually lost feeling in his feet, and became hungry and thirsty. He drifted in and out of consciousness. Hallucinating periodically, fantasy and reality became difficult to distinguish, the passing of time vague.

``I could hear the work going on above me and I knew they were searching for people. They had to be. I could hear the machinery, the choppers. Even conversations,″ he said. ``No matter how much I shouted or what noise I made, I couldn’t make then hear me.″

Rescuers first discovered Diver using sensitive sounding equipment. Early on Aug. 2, firefighter Steve Hirst called out, ``Is anyone there?″

``That was the moment I came back to life,″ Diver said. ``The second I heard that voice, I was alive.″

Rescuers intensified their efforts, fearing more landslides. First physical contact came hours later, when paramedic Paul Featherstone poked a hand through a hole punched in the concrete wall. After more hours of digging, Diver was pulled free.

``Coming out of that hole was like dying one day and being reborn the next,″ he said.

Diver is still amazed at his survival _ a drama that had Australia riveted _ and at the praise of him as a hero.

``I did what had to,″ he said. ``I didn’t pick myself out to survive _ it just happened. That was fate.″

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