Harrowing video captures cafe explosion survivor’s escape
JOE Torrisi saw a "cloud" before his life exploded in a deadly fireball in a Ravenshoe cafe five years ago.
"It was gas,'' the 60-year-old survivor told an inquest into the tragedy yesterday. "And then someone yelled 'fire'."
With both hands, he covered his face as the blast lifted him off his feet and bodily flung him metres outside on to the footpath.
The father-of-four can be seen in harrowing security footage captured outside of the explosion that left two dead and injured 19 others about midday on June 9, 2015.
He staggers to his feet, still on fire, his hair smoking, shirt and pants shredded, his skin burnt white to the bone or charred black.
"I've had to learn to talk, eat, walk again,'' the veteran firefighter of 40 years told the first day of inquest at Atherton yesterday.
"I had 42 per cent burns to most of my body, numerous skin grafts, it's something I'll have to deal with for the rest of my life.''
Northern Coroner Nerida Wilson yesterday heard the chilling testimony of survivors, rescuers and witnesses into the moment an out-of-control 4WD Toyota Ute crashed into two gas canisters outside the packed Serves You Right cafe, detonating a fireball.
Driver Brian Scutt, 54, who was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial before he died in August last year, was believed to have had a seizure.
He was seen slumped at the wheel, hands down, foot jammed on the accelerator as the vehicle careered on a path of destruction up the main street of the tiny far North Queensland town, population 900, 117km south-west of Cairns.
Chef Noeleen Avenell was in the cafe kitchen when the ute smashed a hole into the side of the building.
"I thought it was an earthquake, it was an almighty crash,'' she told the inquest.
"I was covered in boiling oil, surrounded by a massive ball of fire, I screamed fire, and I kept screaming."
She was given five per cent chance of survival by doctors with horrific burns to her entire body.
Mother-of-two Nicole Nyholt, 37, who was running the cafe while her parents were on holiday, and Margaret Clark, 82, a mother-of-seven, later died in hospital from their injuries.
At least 16 other victims had to be treated in specialist burns units in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane.
"It was an accident,'' close friend Veronica Featherstone said. "Brian was a good bloke, he wouldn't hurt a fly, he would never purposely put anyone in danger.''
The bush stockman had rung her twice that morning telling her "I'm really sick, I feel really sick" trying to contact his wife Robyn, the inquest heard.
But in 20 years of knowing him, he never told her he suffered epilepsy or had a history of seizures.
The inquest is examining whether it should be mandatory for medical professionals to notify authorities if they find a driver unfit to hold a licence because of illness, impairment and disability.