‘I thought we’re all gone’: Hero bus driver relives fatal crash drama
With a fire extinguisher in hand and bleeding from the head, school bus driver Colin Stafford entered what was left of his bus to check for a second time to make sure no students were left behind in the wreck after a deadly head-on collision.
Moments earlier Mr Stafford was taking 17 Wallumbilla State School students to their hometown of Yuleba along the stretch of the Warrego Highway in southwest Queensland as he had done countless times when catastrophe struck.
A car driven by a 37-year-old Western Downs woman with a 30-year-old Chinchilla woman in the passenger seat ploughed into the front of the bus.
"To be honest, when I saw the car right there in front of me it was like everything was coming down and I thought 'we're all gone'," Mr Stafford said.
"There was screeching and then this great big thud."
Thankfully Mr Stafford had seen what was about to happen and slowed his bus down to an almost-stop before impact.
"My first thought was to get those kids off the bus, they were pretty upset," he said.
Running off adrenaline, the 58-year-old helped students exit the wreck through a window and told the students to wait on the side of the highway in the shade under a tree.
What he saw when he got off the bus was a scene of carnage - debris and glass scattered across the road.
"There was a complete car engine sitting on the road," he said.
"I don't know how that engine got on that side of the bus."
One of the high school students, Kelly, helped Mr Stafford speak to Triple-Zero while he helped other students on the side of the road.
Mr Stafford and 16 students were transported to Roma Hospital for minor lacerations and abrasions, while 13-year-old student, Liam Sladden, suffered two broken bones in one leg and a broken thumb.
The passenger in the vehicle, a mother-of-five, died after the crash and the 37-year-old driver has been left fighting for her life after she was flown to a Brisbane hospital.
Mr Stafford, a bus driver on and off for more than 30 years, has been hailed as a hero and lifesaver by the students' parents and emergency services for his extraordinary control of his bus and keeping it upright after impact.
In 2017, at an out-of-cost expense of $30,000, Mr Stafford had seatbelts installed in his bus.
"I think they're overdoing it a bit by calling me a hero," he said.
"I'm just grateful that the kids are alive and OK.
"It would have been a lot different without belts, I'm sure of it."
In a show of small town community spirit, another Roma-based bus company Lor-Ken Transit has offered to cover Mr Stafford's bus route with a spare bus of theirs and driver.
"I'm really grateful to Renee and Rodney Waugh and Julie Klein the driver, I was wondering how the hell I was going to get by the following week," he said.
"But they came forward and done that which has been magnificent.
"The parents and the kids have been great rallying around me in the days since the crash."
Mr Stafford wished to thank SES, paramedics, police and bystanders who helped at the scene.
Originally published as 'I thought we're all gone': Hero bus driver relives fatal crash drama