‘I thought I was dead’: skydiver

A first-time skydiver who lost two friends when their plane hit a tree and crashed to the ground near Ipswich two years ago has told of how she prayed to God in the moments before impact. Gold Coast woman Amanda Best suffered a broken neck, shoulder, ribcage and arms when the Cessna 206 dropped from the sky moments after taking off from a Willowbank airstrip on January 2, 2006. The crash, which killed five people including Ms Best’s friends, Barbara McLelland, 40, and Sessane Williams, 49, is believed to have been the result of partial engine failure. The exact cause will be determined by an inquest, currently under way in Brisbane, which is also expected to examine the safety of the flight by operator Brisbane Skydiving Centre, and the experience of 22 year-old pilot Anthony Winter, who was among those who perished. Ms Best today recalled her terror and "the sounds of bones breaking" as she and her friends, along with three Brisbane Skydiving Centre instructors, Brian Scofell, 57, Colin Hicklin, 41, and Nigel O’Gorman, 34, were tossed around the plane’s cabin as it flipped and plunged into a farmer’s dam. The right wing had been ripped off after clipping a 23 metre-tall tree. Mr Scofell was the only other survivor. "It just didn’t have the power in it to get any higher," Ms Best said of the Cessna seconds after it left the ground. "The engine started to cut out. My girlfriend and I began to pray. "I remember thinking ‘This is going to hurt’ and then we hit the water. "I thought I was dead." The Coroner’s Court heard Ms McLelland had organised the 14,000-feet tandem skydive to celebrate her 40th birthday. Ms Best said she had agreed to take part but had "not been particularly keen", and became even more concerned with the level of training and safety equipment provided by the company on the day of the jump. She said her requests for a helmet had been "fobbed off" and claimed she was told it didn’t matter that her jumpsuit was torn. She also said paperwork, effectively waiving the company’s responsibility for any accidents or injuries, was not properly explained or instructions given on what to do in the event of an emergency. "You knew that we were being rushed through the process," she told State Coroner Michael Barnes. "I didn’t know what I was about to sign. "It wasn’t worth the paper it was written on." The court heard the Cessna made a "putting" sound soon after takeoff, prompting Mr Scofell to shout instructions to Mr Winter in the cockpit, including "don’t stall it, keep it up, give it some throttle". Ms Best said she then looked out of the window and saw what she thought at the time was a power pole. It was, in fact, the tree. After the collision, the aircraft crashed to the ground with none of the parachutists restrained inside. Ms Best managed to escape the submerged wreckage and swim to the dam’s edge as her tandem partner, Mr Hicklin, floated dead in the water nearby. Despite her horrific injuries, she walked several hundred metres to get help. "I asked them to cut my clothes off me because the (plane’s) petrol was burning me," she said. "I just know that someone was looking out for me." Before concluding her evidence, she asked Mr Barnes to consider a letter allegedly penned by Mr Hicklin to his family one month before the crash in which he highlighted his own safety concerns with Brisbane Skydiving Centre’s operations. "They’re very poorly equipped here with training," Ms Best quoted from the document. The inquest continues.

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Bills soar as water plant hits home

SYDNEY residents will be hit by price rises of more than 20 per cent next year after the pricing regulator granted Sydney Water permission to increase its charges by more than the corporation itself requested.

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The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal said water prices for households would rise by 17 per cent, plus a further increase for inflation – suggesting a rise of more than 20 per cent next financial year.

Over the next four years, household water prices are to rise by a combined 41 per cent for households using 200,000 litres of water a year. When inflation is included, the final amount could rise by more than 50 per cent. Households using 300,000 litres of water a year face a rise of 45 per cent, plus inflation costs, while households using 400,000 litres will be hit by a rise of 48 per cent, plus inflation.

Sydney Water’s chief executive, Kerry Schott, said price rises beyond 2011 would be in line with the consumer price index. "It will be close to the CPI – depending on our capital spending program," Dr Schott said.

The tribunal decided to give Sydney Water a higher price rise than it asked for following the recent rises in interest rates.

The head of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Robin Banks, said the fixed service charge element of the water bill would double under the planned price rises. This would affect low-usage and low-income consumers because there was "nothing discretionary about the service charge", he said.

"The rises are to pay for the desalination plant, which won’t be used during this determination period.

"Sydney Water’s decision sends no message other than that the cost of desalination will hit everyone," he said.

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Cut fuel price, demand voters

ALMOST 80 per cent of voters want direct Government intervention to cut petrol prices, the latest Herald /Nielsen poll finds.

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Among those demanding action, three times as many support a cut in fuel excise, as proposed by the Opposition, than support the Government’s FuelWatch price information scheme.

——————- YOUR SAY: Do you want action? ——————-

But with skyrocketing petrol prices a global phenomenon, the poll finds that Labor is slightly more trusted than the Coalition to handle the crisis, although most voters are dissatisfied with the job Kevin Rudd has done so far.

Amid riots and strikes over petrol prices in other countries, Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, said that it plans to increase its output next month to its highest ever level.

As it becomes increasingly nervous about the global political and economic effect of high prices, King Abdullah told the United Nations chief, Ban Ki-moon, that they were "abnormally high" and he was willing to do whatever he could to bring them down.

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, returning yesterday from a Group of Eight finance ministers meeting in Japan, said: "There’s no doubt that global inflationary pressures – particularly rising food and oil prices – have become the most significant challenge currently facing the global economy."

Of the 1401 people polled by Nielsen from Thursday to Saturday, 56 per cent were unhappy with the Prime Minister’s handling of petrol but 38 per cent said Labor was best suited to handle it, compared with 34 per cent for the Coalition.

Petrol prices have become a key economic factor and the poll finds Labor’s economic credibility has grown in Government. Before the election, Labor trailed the Coalition by 29 percentage points on the economy but has now closed the gap to eight points.

Despite dominating domestic politics, petrol prices have yet to inflict significant damage on the Government. The poll shows primary and two-party support for both parties is virtually unchanged since a month ago when the petrol issue flared. Mr Rudd’s disapproval rating rose 5 points to 27 per cent and his approval rating slipped 2 percentage points to a still-lofty 67 per cent. The Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, who advocated a fuel excise cut of five cents a litre and successfully exploited Labor’s internal divisions over FuelWatch, was mildly rewarded. His approval rating rose 4 points to 38 per cent.

The poll finds 78 per cent want the Government to do something about petrol. Of these, two-thirds want fuel excise cut while fewer than a quarter back FuelWatch.

Last week in Japan, Mr Rudd put pressure on oil-producing nations to lift production and accused them of distorting the market by refusing to do so.

The Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner, criticised petrol subsidies and caps on prices in Asian countries, saying they distorted the market and delayed the development of new technology.

"What we are seeing here … is a once-in-a-lifetime transformation in Asia where hundreds of millions of people are moving up from very basic peasant lifestyles into lifestyles that are much more resource-intensive, like ours."

That benefited Australia by driving the mining boom but also drove up petrol prices, he said. "It is important for Australia to put pressure on these other countries but of course we can’t force them to make those changes."

The Opposition agreed fuel subsidies were unsustainable but said Australia had no right to lecture neighbours.

 

 

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Step right up: Property spruiker hits streets

A New Farm real estate agent is stopping people in the streets in search of potential buyers, in a desperate attempt to curb a slump in Brisbane’s unit and townhouse market.

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"Do you want to buy an apartment?" LJ Hooker principal agent Brett Greensill asked a passerby on Brunswick Street.

"It’s fact, buyers just aren’t as thick on the ground and it’s getting harder and harder to sell," Mr Greensill said.

In sharp contrast to the market high in last year’s first quarter, demand and price growth has slowed, leaving properties stranded on the market for more than three months in inner-city Brisbane suburbs.

Hiking interest rates, volalility in the stock market and trends in overseas’ markets have deterred buyers according to figures released by the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ).

REIQ figures released today indicated a 1.5 per cent drop in median unit prices between January and March this year.

"We have had an apartment in Newstead Terraces on the market since January and over that time the price has reduced from $500,000 to $485,000 and finally to $450,000," Mr Greensill said.

However REIQ chairman Peter McGrath said current figures reflect historical averages for the year’s first quarter.

"Brisbane is coming down off a high, so to speak … the market is simply returning to normal," Mr McGrath said.

Yet Mr McGrath conceded investor demand has cooled recently as servicing increasing loan repayments becomes more difficult.

"Investors appear to be staying out of the market until rents reach a level where they match the increase in interest rates and they are confident that the market has definitely stabilised," he said.

The trend has been felt hardest within the CBD, where apartments in complexes on Charlotte Street have remained unsold for four months.

"It is taking 30 days longer to sell inner-city apartments because investors are bowing out," LJ Hooker Brisbane Central principal agent Alexandra Rutherford said.

Prices have been scaled back accordingly Ms Rutherford said.

"We have had apartments priced at $480,000 reduced to $460,000 and some reduced to $420,000."

However, Mr McGrath warned real estate agents against judging the current market against last year’s anomoly.

"I don’t think some agents realised how good it was last year, thinking. it could last forever. Now we are just moving back to a more traditional market," he said.

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Brisbane man jailed for ‘despicable’ deed

A Brisbane man who repeatedly molested his fiance’s six-year-old son over several hours blamed the abuse on alcohol and pornography, a court has heard.

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The 31-year-old man, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty yesterday to eight counts of indecent treatment of a child under 12, under care.

Brisbane’s District Court heard the man had been living with his fiance and two children for three months when he abused the boy on June 8 last year.

The child’s mother had started working night shift and entrusted the man to care for children while she was away, prosecutor David Nardone said.

On the night the offences took place, the man had been drinking and watching pornography before he repeatedly molested the boy over several hours, the court heard.

He confessed to the boy’s mother the next day and blamed his actions on alcohol consumption.

Defence barrister John Hutton argued his client should receive a shorter prison term because of the treatment he would likely receive from fellow inmates.

"He’s going to go to jail and he’s going to do it tough," Mr Hutton said.

He quoted Oscar Wilde and said that in prison, "a day feels like a week and a week feels like a year".

The man had no prior criminal history and was receiving on-going treatment, the court heard.

A victim impact statement prepared by the boy’s mother and tendered to the court was described by Judge Wally Tutt as "one of the most poignant" he had ever read.

The "disturbing" statement showed the "despicable and nauseating" abuse would likely have a lasting impact on the child, Judge Tutt said.

"Your actions were as revolting and sickening as they were criminal … your conduct was evil," he told the man.

Judge Tutt sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment and set a parole release date of June 13, 2009, taking into account the man’s apparent remorse and cooperation with authorities.

The boy’s family, who were seated in the public gallery, heckled the man as he was led out of the courtroom.

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Hubbard ready for another giant effort

Dubbo Rhinos second rower Nick Hubbard could rightly be nicknamed “stork”.
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At six feet six inches tall he is a towering man and, more to the point, his father owns Dubbo Mushrooms, where he now works.

But unlike the yield of his harvest, the 105kg giant won’t be fed any “crap”, as his opposition learned last weekend and CSU will see in round two of the Blowes Menswear Cup at Apex Oval tomorrow.

Hubbard scrummed down in his first grade debut for the Rhinos against Cowra last Saturday and was a standout in driving rain at Recreation Oval despite his team falling to a 10-3 loss.

In his first match in the central west competition, and on his 19th birthday, Hubbard proved damaging with the ball with aggressive running and in defence the sheer size of his frame seemed to frighten his more experienced opponents.

First grade coach Andrew Williams was more than impressed by the debut of his Rhino rookie, who has again been named in first grade this weekend, and holds great hope for Hubbard’s rugby playing future.

“Potentially, Nick is a superstar. He is only young and is still learning the game but if he continues to develop he could be anything,” Williams said.

“He has the right physique and the athleticism to needed and is the sort of player that, once he has developed, Super 12 teams look for.

“He played really well against Cowra on the weekend, he hit the ball up well especially in the second half. He proved that even though he is young, he is very tough.

“But his game hasn’t fully developed so we will nurture him at the club and I think he will only keep getting better.”

Hubbard returned to Dubbo this year after completing Year 12 at Scots College in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, a basketball scholarship luring him to the Bellevue Hill school in 1998.

While concentrating on basketball while boarding, Hubbard still found time to play rugby for Scots in the prestigious Greater Private Schools competition but after coming home to work with the family business now has his sights set firmly on success in the 15-a-side competition.

“I was at school on a basketball scholarship so that was my main sport, but now I’m back in Dubbo rugby has become much more important,” Hubbard said.

“I’ve gotten right into weights, I’m doing them four times each week, and do a lot of fitness work on my own. I’m fitter now than I ever have been and feel stronger too.”

That is outstanding news for the Rhinos and their 2001 Blowes Menswear Cup quest, but something opposition teams mightn’t be as happy to hear.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Iguanagate: Della in the freezer

A DEFIANT John Della Bosca insists "I’ve done nothing wrong" in the Iguanas nightclub affair, even after Morris Iemma stood him aside yesterday because the minister failed to tell the Premier he had written an apology that saved him from being sacked.
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Faced with the revelation in the Herald yesterday, Mr Della Bosca admitted he faxed the wording of an apology he wanted from Iguanas Waterfront after its staff had accused him and his wife, the federal Labor MP Belinda Neal, of abusing and threatening them on Friday night last week. It was this apology that the Premier had used to justify not sacking his education minister from cabinet.

Mr Della Bosca was believed to be furious last night because Mr Iemma had assured him earlier in the day that no action would be taken against him. Mr Iemma appeared to have changed his mind after critical media attention.

Despite his suspension, Mr Della Bosca again dismissed the scandal as a "media beat-up".

"I simply say to you I’ve done nothing wrong. I did not swear, I did not behave inappropriately … this has become such a monumental and ludicrous distraction," Mr Della Bosca said in Bathurst, where he had been on ministerial duties. "I have absolutely never lied to anybody about anything in this affair or anything else … and the fact of the matter is these allegations are simply a monumental distraction from the people of NSW having a government they deserve – a government focused on transport, health, infrastructure, energy policy."

The Opposition Leader, Barry O’Farrell, said the Premier was "gutless". "Morris Iemma asked for a full statement from his minister on this affair. The statement did not refer to the fact that John Della Bosca drafted the apology – on that basis alone this bloke should be sacked. Morris Iemma has been as tough as a teddy bear – the minister he’s purported to have disciplined doesn’t even know he’s been stood down."

Mr Iemma denied his minister lied to him but conceded he omitted a vital piece of information.

"Earlier in the week I reported to you that John Della Bosca had provided me with a report of the circumstances of the incident on the weekend and with that was an apology from the club," Mr Iemma said. "There is also a police investigation and I will allow the investigation to take its course … I am standing John aside on this basis and that the faxing and his drafting of the apology was something that was not in that report."

Mr Della Bosca and Ms Neal have denied claims in six statutory declarations by Iguanas staff that they threatened the nightclub’s licence and were rude and abusive. Four friends who dined with Mr Della Bosca and Ms Neal have written statutory declarations supporting them. The conflicting statutory declarations are now the subject of a police investigation.

The incident led to allegations from Labor sources about Ms Neal’s explosive temper, and that she has kept photos and written names of enemies in her freezer.

Mr Iemma said he had been friends with Mr Della Bosca for more than 20 years and he was a "loyal colleague and friend".

"I have observed him at conferences, we have debated at conferences. In all of the forums of the party and community meetings as a minister, as a member of Parliament, I can’t remember him, John Della Bosca, acting in the way that was alleged."

Asked if he trusted Mr Della Bosca, Mr Iemma replied: "Yes, I do … It does not mean he has lied. I stood by him on Tuesday. He is a friend and a valued colleague.

"The [Iguanas] apology still stands. I still have no evidence, no information that brings into question the apology. What I’ve done from the beginning, and whether it has been with John Della Bosca or anybody else, I’ve always been guided by what is right."

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Ipswich Cup ‘ruined’ by rail closure

Saturday’s Ipswich Cup race meeting could be "ruined" by a Queensland Rail decision to close the Ipswich line this weekend for routine track maintenance.
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An irate Ipswich Turf Club general manager Brett Kitching today slammed Queensland Rail, which has refused to back down on plans to carry out maintenance work on the biggest day in Ipswich’s social calendar.

The Ipswich Cup meeting regularly attracts crowds of 20,000 people. However, it’s feared more than 3000 could be sliced from that number on Saturday because of the Ipswich line closure between Corinda and Ipswich.

Train passengers will have to instead catch a bus from Corinda to attend the meeting.

"We don’t need this at this late stage … we’re two days out from race (day) and there is mass confusion about what public transport will and won’t be available," Mr Kitching told brisbanetimes杭州夜网.au.

"The club has worked hard in previous years to get as many people as possible using public transport.

"We have already had people call and say they won’t be coming because of the hassles with public transport."

Robert Dow, from commuter group Rail: Back on Track, said the line closure could ruin the entire event.

"Folks plan for these events for long periods of time and it’s heartbreaking to have it ruined by lack of consideration of transport authorities," Mr Dow said.

A Queensland Rail spokeswoman said it was not possible to delay the maintenance work.

"These projects are planned 12 months in advance, at this stage it is too late to change (those plans)," she said.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said the debacle highlighted long-standing communication problems between the community and transport authorities.

However, he did compliment Queensland Rail for adding an extra 25 express buses to services that will shuttle patrons from Corinda train station to Bundamba.

In contrast, Mr Dow said the extra express buses had come too late.

"There have been previous line closures on the Ipswich line for maintenance (on) weekends which have impacted severely on a number of community events in the last couple of years. People are becoming very sensitive to these impacts," Mr Dow said.

Railway lines were also closed from Corinda to Rosewood during the Ipswich Show. Line closures also caused major disruptions to the Oxley Village Street Fair last year.

"In May 2007, Rail Back on Track suggested to the minister for transport that a community database could be set up where various groups could register their events," Mr Dow said.

"This would help plan track closures that would have less of a negative impact on community events.

"We all appreciate the need for closures to allow track maintenance and upgrades, but surely it can be done in a more empathetic manner with regard to the community."

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Hazelton is here to stay

Hazelton staff in Dubbo received assurances late last week their jobs were safe in the wake of the Ansett takeover.
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Morale among the 23-strong crew slumped in recent months prompting a fly-in from Hazelton’s chief commercial officer Douglas Hendry.

Regional manager Wally Flynn said staff were visibly relieved after meeting with Mr Hendry at Dubbo Airport on Wednesday.

While staff cuts remain off limits the takeover is expected to streamline bookings, introduce new ticketing procedures and lead to “phenomenal cost savings” in fuel, insurance and uniforms.

Hazeltons also plans to announce expansion to a new port in the near future, adding to its 19-strong line-up. Dubbo remains the airline’s second major centre, after Orange, handling 90 flights a week.

“The bottom line is their jobs are safe,” Mr Hendry said immediately after the meeting. “A whole bunch of rumours came out of Dubbo, it seems to be a melting pot.

“Wal phoned me up and said ‘Oh God, you hear what such and such has said?’ There were just too many rumours going around.

“So I said I’d come up and quash them, talk to the staff, talk to our travel agent partners and assure them Hazelton is here to stay.

“And we’re here to stay as is. There’s no intention, there’s no plan or hidden agenda to cut staff.”

Mr Hendry said the economics showed again and again that it was cheaper and more cost effective to retain Hazelton employees.

But he admitted the number of closed-door discussions concerning the takeover had fuelled staff anxiety.

“We have given commitment to the staff that as soon as we know anything the first people to hear about it will be them,” he said.

“If they hear something and it doesn’t come from Wally and it doesn’t come from me – it’s rubbish.

“And if they want at any time to phone me and clarify anything I’ll always be willing to talk with them.”

Mr Flynn said rumours that were rife in the lead-up to the headline-grabbing takeover only intensified in recent weeks.

“The meeting has been great,” he said. “It’s straightened things out – the rumour – that’s all it was. To have Douglas come up and talk to our staff first hand will squash any of that.”

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Horror box draw for rich final bid

Dawson Park’s new 313 metre track record holder, Early Riser will have to overcome a horror box draw of five and a strong field to win the Sheather’s Carpet Court Maiden this afternoon.
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The Sheather’s $4000 final and a number of other feature races will wind up the $20,000 Anzac Carnival conducted by the Dubbo club.

The son of Golden Currency – Pinky Lee had last Sunday’s big crowd awe-struck as he carved out a new track time of 18.10s, lowering the old mark by six-one-hundredths of a second.

Prepared by the Miller family at Mullion Creek near Orange, Early Riser has drawn badly in five with speed to burn on both sides.

The general opinion among track regulars is that Tricky Enigma in box four has the early speed to lead the field all the way.

The June Shirvington-trained flier posted 18.27s in his heat last Sunday carving out record early splits in defeating early maiden series favourite Raise The Dust.

Hank Vanderburg has Beema Las Vegas well in contention after drawing box two.

Another 18.50s heat winner, Long Journey, is also expected to be well supported.

The Sheather’s Maiden Final today will be supported by the Dawson’s Plaster Works Final (400m) and the Supporters Club Final (516m) which are both worth $3000.

In the Dawson’s final, new 400m track record holder Jack Coady has drawn reasonably well in box three and should take a power of beating.

Last Sunday he broke the magical 23s barrier and stopped the clock at 22.95s.

Perfect Pinky in box four and Courtney’s Pride (two) are both in form and look to be the main dangers.

Rob Sharp’s promising youngster Oympic Hero is likely to start a short-priced favourite in the Supporter’s Club final.

The Dalalla sprinter ran a near record 30.09s in his heat win after being held up slightly in the run to the first corner.

Goober’s Gold from box four, and Pacific Style (eight) present the greatest dangers.

The Dubbo Cup, sponsored by Dubbo Pet and Stock Feeds, will also be decided today over 516m with a top-class field.

Although this race is the ninth on the card it is suggested punters keep some of their money to back Osti’s Gold which, according to Brian Baker, is a special.

The first of 10 races today leaves the boxes at 1pm and owners and trainers are reminded the kennel times are 11.30am until 12.15pm.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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