Jason Holman knew something was wrong when the ride attendant at Sydney’s Luna Park yanked him from the Ghost Train just as he was about to enter ‘Hell’s Doorway’.
‘There was just a man with panic written all over his face,’ he said of that life-changing moment on that balmy winter’s night.
What he didn’t know at the time was he would never see his friends Richard Carroll, Jonathan Billings, Seamus Rahilly and Michael Johnson again as they would perish in the theme park’s infamous fire of June 1979.
‘I’ve started to cry, wee myself, have the start of the meltdown. I’ve just lost it,’ he said of the blaze which killed seven people and shocked Australia.
Mr Holman, now 54, was dubbed ‘the luckiest boy alive’ by the media, but of course he did not feel that way.
The Luna Park Ghost Train fire in June, 1979 claimed the lives of John Godson, and six children – Damien Godson, Craig Godson, Richard Carroll, Michael Johnson, Jonathan Billings and Seamus Rahilly
The inferno was blamed on an electrical fault, but a coronial inquiry held later that year was unable to determine the cause
And almost 42 years later little has changed as he breaks his silence as the lone survivor of the inferno to open up to the ABC’s investigative documentary series EXPOSED.
He can still hear the screams. Smell the smoke. See the flames.
‘As I’m retreating, the smoke, the flames, the absolute mayhem starts to kick in,’ Holman recalls in the show which airs at 8:30pm, Tuesday, March 16.
He still feels the incessant guilt. Why did he survive? How did it happen?
The then 12-year-old and his 13-year-old friends were on their first night out without parental supervision after many months nagging their mums and dads for permission.
Mr Holman was eagerly sitting in a separate carriage behind his friends who he just watched excitedly roll through the ride’s entrance doors inscribed ‘Hell’s Doorway’.
Jonathan and Richard had piled into the first carriage, and Micheal and Seamus into the next, leaving Mr Holman to sit alone in one behind them.
Mr Holman was seconds from entering the ride, which at 10.15pm was to be their last for the night, when the Guardian Angel whisked him to safety.
At this point, Mr Holman had no clue of the terror that was about to unfold as nothing seemed amiss from the outside of the train.
Footage from ABC’s investigative documentary series EXPOSED shows police at the scene of Luna Park moments after the blaze in 1979
On June 9, 1975 a fire on the Ghost Train ride at Luna Park in Sydney (pictured) killed seven people and changed the lives of a community forever
But the ride’s black interior had begun filling with thick smoke after a small blaze that started deep within the ride billowed into a roaring inferno, swallowing the entire train.
And within moments, chaos unfolded as scrambling passengers started kicking down partition walls and pouring out of fire exits just moment before it exploded into a fireball.
Mr Holman’s schoolboy friends Richard, Jonathan, Seamus and Michael, all 13, as well as John Godson, 29 and his two young sons, Craig, four, and Damien six, all died after becoming trapped inside.
‘This fire was something different. This fire was just nuts, out of control … and massive, dwarfing us,’ Mr Holman told the ABC.
‘My friends, engulfed by flames, died in front of me. Why did I survive? Why me? I ask myself that question nearly every single day’.
Mr Holman waited outside for his friends but they never emerged as Mr Godson’s body was found with his arms outstretched attempting to shield his young sons.
Jason Holman was the lone survivor and has broken his silence for the first time since the tragedy rocked the nation in 1979. Pictured: The entrance of Luna Park today
Pictured are four of the children who died in the fire, including Richard Carroll (second from left). The cause of the fire is still unknown, but there is speculation is was an electrical fault
Luna Park reopened in 1982 under the name Harbourside Amusement Park before relaunching under its original name in 1995
Police the next day put the fire down to an electrical fault, but a coronial inquiry held later that year was unable to determine the cause.
The tragedy has since been shrouded in mystery, sparking conspiracy theories of arson and cover-ups – with the source of the fire yet to be resolved.
Mr Holman believes it was the work of arsonists after speaking with Australian artist Martin Sharp who repainted Luna Park’s iconic face after the blaze.
Before his death five years ago, Mr Sharp had carried out his own makeshift investigation and collected pieces of evidence which lead him to believe the theme park which he adored was deliberately set on fire.
Mr Holman said it was now his mission to get justice for those who perished in the flames on that winter’s night when laughter was replaced with profound sadness.
He said he will never forget the sight of the empty carriages emerging from the ride along the mechanical track completely engulfed in flames.
The theme park, which opened in 1935, was shutdown immediately after the incident but reopened in 1982 under the name Harbourside Amusement Park, before later reclaiming its original name and relaunching in 1995.