Dr Charles Whitchurch helped many passengers.
Dr Charles Whitchurch helped many passengers. Supplied

Crash survivor recalls disaster

IT was pitch black and all Mervyn McMurdo could hear was pained screams and cries for help.

He went to move but was trapped – his leg impaled by debris.

With only about 10cm of room to move he started punching the ceiling to make more space before realising he couldn’t hear his mate in the bunk bed below.

Mr McMurdo reached his hand down only to realise his friend had been killed – his skull crushed by the weight of everything above.

Another friend, Sydney Moore, who was pinned by the shoulders and up to his waist in water, sung out and the pair spent the next seven hours keeping each other awake before rescuers got to them.

They were just two of the survivors of the Bogantungan train crash disaster.

It was 50 years ago today that the areas around Bogantungan, 360km west of Rockhampton, experienced heavy rainfalls, so much so the rivers and creeks flooded.

Medway Creek, lined with old gum trees, flowed under a rail bridge just west of Bogantungan.

A 12 tonne tree had demolished that bridge – just as the Rockhampton-bound Midlander train, carrying 120 passengers, was about to cross at 2.30am on February 26, 1960.

The impact was disastrous and train carriages piled on top of each other, some forced 7.6m into the creek below.

Seven people were killed and 43 were injured – making it one of Queensland’s worst rail disasters in history.

This week Mr McMurdo reflected back on the crash that impacted his life so much and today he will revisit the site.

Large vivid scars still mark his right leg as a reminder of the pain he endured that night after suffering a broken pelvis and broke his leg in three places.

The 71-year-old had been working on the Midlander as a cook.

He met Mr Moore, an electrician, frequently on the train and the two became good friends.

Mr McMurdo said it could have been him who died that night as he usually slept on the bottom bunk.

But this night Mr Moore and others he was sharing the cabin with had had a few drinks and Mr McMurdo offered to take the top bunk to make it easier for them.

“Little did we realise what was about to unfold,” he said.

“There was a hell of a lot of noise and confusion (when it crashed). We were in the middle of nowhere with no lights or torches. It was pitch black and raining.

“My impalement was my saviour really – otherwise I would have bled to death.

“I told my friend at the time that I couldn’t feel my right leg. He said that may be a good thing as there were toes floating down with him that were not his.”

Mr McMurdo and other passengers were rescued by doctors and nurses from the Royal Flying Doctors Service and Emerald doctor Charles Whitchurch.

Once at Emerald Hospital Mr McMurdo said he risked loosing his leg.

“Back in those days your parents still had legal rights over whether you were given blood and it just so happened that my father was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness, therefore blood transfusions were out of the question,” he said.

“My father did eventually give into the situation even though he had gone against his faith.”

Dr Whitchurch, who has since passed away, worked at the crash scene from 2.30am to 9pm.

He played a pivotal role in many people’s survivors and has been honour for his dedication and service.

Another survivor, Peter Henderson, was only four when he and his mother were riding home to Clermont after visiting his eldest sister, who was expecting a baby.

He said he couldn’t remember much but remembered the clothes he had on and the suitcase he carried.

“I can remember giving my clothes from my suitcase away to other children,” he said.

“I can remember the carriage and the water and the people – but no real details.”

Mr Henderson and his mother had been sitting in one of the back carriages.

He said his mother always talked about the Indigenous railway worker who helped carry women from the carriages to safety.

Mr McMurdo said the government classed the crash as an “act from God” and therefore he could not claim compensations for his injuries.

“Today I tell people different yarns about what happened to my leg, including a shark attack and a crocodile bit me just for laughs,” he said.

He has also recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, something his doctor said could be contributed to his injuries from the crash.

But Mr McMurdo holds no regrets or grudges – he’s led a fascinating life and travelled across Australia and the world.

He also has three beautiful daughters and many grandchildren; and is happily married to wife Judith.

The Bogantungan Museum houses many pictures and memorabilia from the crash and is open for viewing at any time by calling June on 4985 5942.


George Albert Krause, 35, married train driver from Alpha

Neville Eric Helmuth, 24, married fireman from Alpha

Samuel George Hedges, 63, married conductor from Rockhampton

George Sundergold, 11, from Ilfracombe

Allen George Martin, 10, from Longreach

Darryl Edward Large, 64, from Barcaldine

Alexander Fraser, 65, from Cork Station, Winton.

A total of 43 people were injured.

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