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Tears and prayers mark memorial service for canyoning victims

Families, friends, local residents and political dignitaries forged a sad bond during Thursday’s memorial service for the victims of the recent canyoning accident near the Swiss resort of Interlaken.

This content was published on August 5, 1999 - 17:31

Families, friends, local residents and political dignitaries forged a sad bond during Thursday’s memorial service for the victims of the recent canyoning accident near the Swiss resort of Interlaken.

Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Vice President Adolf Ogi and Australian Governor-general Sir William Deane were among those attending the service in the resort in the Bernese Oberland.

Ogi again expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and lamented the loss of so many young lives.
"Each year, thousands of tourists return to their daily lives after enjoying their holidays in the Swiss mountains," Ogi said. "But sometimes, the mountains are bigger than man -- and we have to accept that."

Referring to the 14 Australian victims, Deane called the tragedy "probably the greatest single peacetime loss of young Australians outside our own country".

"That loss affects not only their families and friends, dreadful though that is. It also deeply affects our nation as a whole and all its people," he said.

The 21 people died when a wall of water surged down the narrow Saxetenbach gorge just south of Interlaken, trapping victims in a rush of black water, debris, rocks and timber. One victim's body is still missing.

Other victims came from Switzerland, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain. Deane said the tragedy had made a little part of Switzerland part of Australia and all these countries.

Deane, along with family and friends of the victims, had scattered 14 sprigs of yellow wattle in the gorge on Wednesday.

He had brought the blooms -- Australia's national flower -- from Government House in Canberra.

"Somehow, we felt that was bringing a little of Australia to them," he said.

"And when we are back in Australia we will remember how the flowers and the perfume and the pollen of their and our homeland were carried down the river where they died to Lake Brienz in this beautiful country on the far side of the world.

"May they rest with God," he told mourners.


From staff and wire reports.

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