ACT News

15 years since hospital implosion tragedy

Fifteen years ago today, 12-year-old Katie Bender lost her life when the implosion of the old Royal Canberra Hospital went tragically wrong.

About 100,000 Canberrans went to Lake Burley Griffin on July 13, 1997, to watch as the hospital – where many of them had been born - was "imploded", to make way for the National Museum of Australia. The event had been staged as a celebration, and a radio station held a competition to push the plunger that set off the blast.

But instead, because of a series of systemic failures outlined in a 657-page report from the coroner, shrapnel was thrown more than 400m across the lake.

Katie, who had gone there with her family after church that Sunday morning, was struck in the head with a 1kg piece of steel, reportedly travelling at up to 150km a second, and died instantly.

The coroner's report found that two contractors involved had not been skilled enough to complete the project in the time available, that government regulatory bodies had not exercised their roles in a visible fashion and that senior officials in the chief minister's department had "played a prominent, intrusive role that was wholly unwarranted" despite having no knowledge of the demolition process.

"It is inevitable that accidents do sometimes occur despite the best precautions, but what occurred when Katie Bender was killed was inexcusable," Coroner Shane Madden was quoted as saying at the time.

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At a memorial service shortly after her death, Katie's cousin, Ms Zeljka Luburic, said the St Clare's College student was "everything that was good wrapped in a pretty little package".

"Big brown sparkly eyes, a long mane of ribboned hair and a cheesy grin like no other - she was our baby," Ms Luburic said, according to reports from the time.

"I ask everyone here today to take these memories of Katie and imagine them as a bright little star ... find that place in your hearts where your sorrow and pain is, and put this star there.

"With time, the pain we are feeling today will slowly ease but nothing can ever diminish that star and those memories of our sweet Katie."

There is a monument to Katie at the site near where she died, near Lennox Gardens:

"Born 18 September 1984, Died 13 July 1997

On this day you were taken away

Becoming an Angel in Heaven above

Sparkling eyes, beautiful long hair and a smile

That will last forever, as will our love for you

Sadly missed by the family, friends and many in the Canberra community

Now One of Canberra's brightest stars"


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