A school bus driver has been hailed a hero after preventing a bus carrying 50 children from plummeting down a steep cliff south of Cobden.
The busload of primary and secondary students was heading along the Cobden-Port Campbell Road at Devils Gully on Wednesday morning when the driver heard a large bang and a shudder before the bus dropped on the left side.
One student described how she felt the bus start to almost jump before it then dragged along the road.
Popes Timboon operations manager David Pope said yesterday the bus was leaning over and the quick-thinking driver avoided braking fearing it would accentuate the lean and cause the bus to roll down the hill.
He said the driver brought the bus to a natural stop.
“He checked to make sure the kids were all OK,” he said.
“He then went out to have a look and the two rear wheels had disengaged.”
Mr Pope said the driver was a bit shaken by the incident but his main concern was the children on the bus.
“A lot of our bus drivers have been with us for a really long time and they’ve seen kids go through to year 12,” he said. “There is a strong bond there.
“One of the things that he was really chuffed about was after he’d asked if they were OK, the kids said ‘yes but are you OK?’ ”
The driver was back to work Wednesday night despite being given the option of taking the afternoon off.
“He really wanted to get back and see the kids,” Mr Pope said.
He said it was the first time an incident like it had occurred and the company was in the process of investigating the cause.
Cobden Technical School assistant principal Michael Smart said the school had received an email from Popes Timboon praising the students on how they had handled the situation. “It was commending the kids on how well they went and also the concern and welfare they showed for the bus driver,” he said. “The senior students were very helpful, I think they were helping to guide traffic.” A Department of Education and Early Childhood Development spokeswoman said the incident had been referred to Public Transport Victoria.
He said Transport Safety Victoria had been notified and would meet with the company next week.
He said only one of the wheels was able to be recovered because the other had rolled down the embankment.
“From our point of view there will be measures in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mr Pope said.
He said the bus had been serviced recently and had been checked by the driver that morning.
Mr Pope also praised the students on the bus, who he said were very calm.
“The kids have done a great job,” he said.
“All our buses have seatbelts. So they were all in their seats and restrained.
“From the driver and our point of view the senior kids really stood up and led.
“They’re all country kids with their feet on the ground. There was no panicking. They were calm and measured.”
Sophie Blain, a year eight student from Mercy Regional College, said it felt like something hit the back of the bus.
“It started jumping a bit and then it kind of dragged along,” she said.
“It was a bit frightening but everyone stayed calm.
“The bus captains told everyone to sit down and stay calm. It was all OK.
“The bus driver did a really good job.
“Popes were there really quickly to help and get us to school.”
St Patrick’s Primary School principal Michael McKenzie said the Camperdown school was thankful the incident didn’t turn into a tragedy.
He said the bus driver had stopped a potentially very bad situation happening.
“I would just echo what has been said about the bus driver and those involved, he did a fantastic job,” Mr McKenzie said.