A truckie who hit a fallen tree in the early hours of the morning on the Princes Highway knew he had just seconds to save another driver hauling gas bottles 300 metres behind him.
Travelling north at about 95kmh, Matt McGovern saw a “massive” tree blocking both lanes at Whittakers Creek, south of Bodalla, on Thursday, November 8.
The Bega driver swerved his car-carrier trailer into the southbound lane to avoid the main trunk. He crashed over the tree, hit the guard rail and careered 30 metres to the bank of the creek.
The radio call he made in pitch darkness from his cabin as it teetered over the water probably saved the lives of two other drivers.
Approaching the tree from different directions at about 4am, they heard Mr McGovern’s desperate warning and braked, preventing a catastrophe.
The pen pushers with the money need to come down and see how bad the state of the road is.Truck crash survivor Matt McGovern
Speaking to the Bay Post/Moruya Examiner this week, Mr McGovern was still in shock, wondering how he escaped with minor injuries.
“I had a split-second to make a decision; I knew if I stayed in the northbound lane, I would’ve died,” Mr McGovern said.
He knew another truck was following him, fast approaching the road block.
“He was full of industrial gas bottles; it could’ve been disastrous if he had gone through it,” he said.
He said a third truckie travelling south also heard the radio warning and stopped in time.
“I’m trying to think about the positives and not the negatives; 99 times out of 100, an accident like that, you don’t walk away from,” Mr McGovern said.
“I’ve never had a heavy-vehicle accident before. It’s affected me the most because I have small children. My wife wouldn’t have a husband and my kids wouldn’t have their father.”
The experienced truckie, who drives hundreds of thousands of kilometres each year, said he never expected to encounter a tree on that stretch of highway.
“It’s probably one of the last places I would ever have thought I would’ve come across a tree on the road,” he said.
“I’m always pretty wary between Tilba and Dignams Creek, and then Brogo pass, where there have been trees over the road. I was always pretty confident, but not now.”
I had a split-second to make a decision; I knew if I stayed in the northbound lane, I would’ve died.Matt McGovern
Encouraged by major upgrades to the Pacific Highway on the state’s North Coast, Mr McGovern has called for urgent improvements to the Princes Highway, right through to the Victorian border.
“It leaves a lot to be desired. There are sections that have been fixed up, between Moruya and the Bay, where it’s been widened over the years. But, between Tilba and Dignams Creek is a real narrow section of road and Brogo pass isn’t real flash, and south of Eden to the border is pretty average,” he said.
“I’d love to see what they’ve done up the North Coast with the Pacific Highway and make it dual carriageway the whole way.”
In the meantime, he wants overhanging trees cleared.
“It’s not until you have a real good look that you see the amount of massive gum trees that could be cleared back from the road,” he said.
“If you really take notice, it will open your eyes to the amount that could come down with a bit of rain and wind.”
Mr McGovern added his voice to Fairfax Media’s FIX IT NOW campaign for urgent safety upgrades to the highway.
“The pen pushers with the money need to come down and see how bad the state of the road is,” he said.
“They can be told till they’re blue in the face, but until they actually have to drive it everyday, they’re never going to get it.
“This is what it usually gets down to before a change gets made. There always has to be a loss of life before action is taken.”