Queensland police are investigating fatigue as a potential factor in the fatal crash that killed two children and has left a toddler fighting for life.
A car carrying a family of six crashed into a dam at Wyaralong, in south-east Queensland on Sunday afternoon, flipping onto its roof and remaining submerged in water while passersby and emergency workers tried to pull the occupants from the wreck.
Two children – a five-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy – were pronounced dead at the scene. A one-year-old male toddler was airlifted to Queensland children’s hospital with critical injuries and another baby received medical treatment at the dam.
The ABC has reported that the one-year-old has since been downgraded to a stable condition in hospital.
A man, 23, and a woman, 33, were taken to the Princess Alexandra hospital with leg injuries. Both are understood to require surgery, although neither are in a life-threatening condition.
Queensland Police Insp Douglas McDonald said the crash was a “tragic and confronting scene”.
“It’s absolutely tragic for the family,” he said on Sunday.
“The vehicle was travelling on a relatively straight two-lane section of road and the vehicle appears to have veered to the left and struck a three-strand wire road barrier before travelling across the road onto the opposite side and colliding again with the road barrier there. The vehicle subsequently rolled down a stone embankment.”
McDonald said the car then landed on its roof in shallow water, trapping some of the occupants inside.
“The adults were able to extract themselves and removed two children. Passing motorists stopped and assisted with removing children from the vehicle and rendering first-aid,” he said.
He thanked passers-by, including two off-duty doctors and a paramedic on a day off, who helped pull people out of the submerged car.
“It was fantastic work [by the passers-by] to help rescue the occupants. Their actions were pivotal in making sure this wasn’t worse,” McDonald said.
“Unfortunately, [the two oldest] children were trapped in the vehicle longer than the other occupants of the vehicle and as I said before, once they were taken from the vehicle, attempts for quite some time to revive those children were unsuccessful, unfortunately.”
He described the experience as “really traumatic” for first responders and those providing CPR.
McDonald said on Monday that although it was early in the investigation, it did not appear that alcohol was involved in the crash.
“It is difficult to say at this stage stop alcohol doesn’t appear to be, on initial investigations, to be a contributor factor. However, we keep an open mind and in particular, as I said, people travelling long distances, fatigue is a real big killer on our roads and that is certainly part of our investigation for this matter,” he said.
The family appeared to be travelling a long distance, from the northern Gold Coast suburb of Pimpama to the small town of Pratten where they lived.
Mark Nugent from the Queensland Ambulance Service told media at the scene that the people helped rescue the youngest child.
“The six-month-old was removed from the water. There was no CPR [done] on that little one and they were conscious the whole time,” he said.
“The emergency response was exceptionally good … there was a remarkable amount of people who did support from the general public. Through that, we were able to get the best outcomes for the patients that we could.”
One police officer attending the scene also crashed their vehicle, the police car flipping onto its roof.
McDonald said the officer was “travelling okay” with no serious injuries.
“It shows how easy it can occur, particularly on unsealed roads. Thankfully, he was wearing a seatbelt, as he should, and has relatively minor injuries considering the vehicle rolled and ended up on its roof on the way to this job,” he said.