Black Spur corners bring milk tanker down
HUNDREDS of milk tanker drivers, and cattle truck operators for that matter, have cheated death through the notorious Black Spur bends at Koonwarra over the years.
But on this day, at slightly more than the right speed, and with 15,000 litres of milk still sloshing around in a half-laden tanker, as the driver rounded the final bend coming out of Koonwarra, it was just too much.
The trailer has tipped over, probably without warning according to highly experienced local drivers, brought the prime mover down with it, and a 50 year old Meeniyan man has lost his life.
The Black Spur bends, on the worst section of the South Gippsland Highway, have struck again and Bass Coast Highway Patrol Police, who took charge of the fatal scene last Saturday morning, are in no doubt that the treacherous design of the corners played its part.
Doubly tragic for the family of the victim, his partner and his colleagues is that exactly this section of the road has already been funded by State and Federal governments for $50 million in realignment works.
The funding was secured in December 2016 when Eastern Victoria MP Harriet Shing announced matching State funding of $25 million for an earlier Federal Government allocation of the same amount.
However, while tenders were expected to be opened later in 2017 for an early 2018 start, a situation that might have saved this man’s life, the start to the project has been variously set back from a mid-2018 to the summer of 2018-19 while additional studies of affected trees and Indigenous artefacts are undertaken.
Construction of the new section will take three years to complete.
Bends to blame
According to police the incident happened at around 5.45am last Saturday, May 26, however while it was a cold morning, police have ruled out public suggestions that the road was either wet or icy.
“From the burnt rubber tyre marks left on the road we can prove there was no ice. It was cold but it wasn’t either wet or icy,” Leading Senior Constable Scott Simcock said.
“The investigation is still on-going but it appears that there has been too much speed at the end of the bends as the vehicle was turning.
“The section is notorious for collisions with crashes at quite a few locations. All these corners have their issues,” LSC Simcock said.
“There’s absolutely no suggestion he was driving above the speed limit but indications are that he has been travelling at slightly more than he should have been for that type of vehicle with that load in that location.
“He’s made a minor mistake, travelling at possibly 5km/h or 10km/h more than he should coming out of that bend, and he’s had to pay a big price.
“It’s an absolutely tragic set of circumstances in a location where there have been numerous collisions and incidents.”
LSC Simmcock said “heavy downward pressure on the front right-hand tyre” indicated the truck had too much speed for the corner.
He said tyre marks at the scene indicated where unwanted speed has placed heavy load pressure on the wheels of both the prime mover and the trailer loaded with approximately 15,000 litres of milk.
“The trailer has tipped over. You’ve got issues, that are going to be looked at, when you’ve got a tanker half loaded with 15,000 litres as against its 26,000 litre capacity, and its inclined to slosh around. So, you’ve got a 15 tonne load moving around and in this case, it’s been enough to tip the trailer over and the prime mover has followed.”
LSC Simmcock said the truck driver died in the cabin at the scene.
He was an employee of Stoitse Transport, reportedly collecting milk for Burra Foods.
According to LSC Simcock, very little of the 15,000 litres of milk on board leaked out and was decanted into another milk truck during the salvage operation. EPA and Worksafe were advised but neither attended the scene. Buffers were placed as a precaution.
The highway was closed for 10 hours, reopening at around 5pm. Busy weekend traffic was detoured around the scene.
Bass Coast Highway Patrol Police, Vicroads (who set up the road blocks), CFA, SES and Ambulance Victoria paramedics attended the scene.
Road works delayed
VicRoads officers attended a meeting of the South Gippsland Shire Council in February this year to report on the Black Spur project, which they said had been delayed by a further six months.
They said surveys had found 1000 year old Indigenous artefacts and railway remnants.
VicRoads has since submitted a cultural management plan to Aboriginal Victoria for approval. The initial project area also impacted 347 Strzelecki gums but has been redesigned to reduce the impact to 180. An additional 4000 Strzelecki gums are to be planted.
A study on the impact of the project on native fish in the Tarwin River, the Australian grayling, was also commissioned.
Construction is unlikely to disturb dinosaur fossil beds but VicRoads is working with Museum Victoria to avoid known fossil sites in the area.
The end result is that the start to works has been delayed until at least the end of 2018.
Wonthaggi police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident and are keen to speak to anyone who may have seen the truck travelling east of Koonwarra at about 5.45am or who witnessed the crash. Call LSC Simcock on 56714100 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 where details can remain confidential.
The fatality brought the state’s 2018 road toll to 89, 12 fewer than for the same time last year.