Ray Jones saved one life on October 20, 1989, but despite his best efforts, could not save another.
Dr Jones was one of the first on scene after a semi-trailer veered onto the wrong side of the Pacific Highway and into a bus carrying 45 passengers near Grafton. The young GP had been out running when he heard news of the crash over the radio and rushed to help.
“When I was walking down the scene, it was just on dawn and I tripped over something on the road,” Dr Jones said.
“I thought it was a brick but I looked down and it was someone’s foot ripped off, still in the shoe.
“When I got further down there had been a junior doctor sent there by the local hospital and she was just sitting on the ground crying because she was totally unprepared for the gravity of what she was dealing with.
“It was a scene of incredible mayhem. The living were huddled in the middle of the highway and the dead lined up in the paddock beside them. Most of the people who survived had significant injuries as a result of being unrestrained.”
Twenty-one died, including the truck driver, making it Australia’s worst road smash until two months later, when two buses collided near Kempsey, killing 35.
Dr Jones battled for hours to save the life of a young woman who had a ruptured uterus following the Grafton smash.
“She was eight months pregnant and bleeding to death internally,” he said.
“She survived – just - but the baby died.”
Dr Jones said the accidents were enduring warnings of what could happen should a school bus full of children crash at high speed.
Today, his nine-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son travel on buses without seatbelts for 50 minutes each day to get to and from school in Coffs Harbour.
“If I drove into Coffs Harbour with my kids in the car unrestrained, I could lose my licence but they can travel there on a school totally unrestrained and it’s legal,” he said.
“It just does not make sense.
“I think it’s farcical that after all the years and all the deaths and injuries, we’re still arguing over whether or not there need to be seatbelts on school buses.”
Dr Jones has been a vocal campaigner for upgrades to the notorious Pacific Highway in the years since the Grafton crash but felt compelled to speak out about school bus safety following the death of nine-year-old Harry Dunn in Singleton last month.
NSW and Victoria are the only states yet to commit to a rollout of seatbelts on school buses.
Dr Jones claimed the issue had not been resolved because it largely affected regional and rural areas, which often escaped political attention.
“If it was an issue affecting Sydney, it would have been resolved 20 years ago,” he said.
“The fact these ill-equipped school buses are on the Pacific Highway, where people are killed on a regular basis, is just totally unacceptable.
“The money is there…governments have the money because Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
“We can build tunnels under Sydney Harbour, massive roads around Sydney and yet here we are up here driving on the same shitty road we were 20 years ago and we haven’t even got seatbelts for children in buses.”
The cause of the Singleton accident remains under investigation.