IN A quiet moment before the start of the inquest into her son's death, Maryanne Iredale leaned in towards her husband and patted him on the shoulder.
“It will be all right,” she whispered. “It will have to be.”
Those words reveal Mrs Iredale's hope that through the inquest, the loss of their 17-year-old son, David, who died after becoming severely dehydrated during a three-day bushwalk in the Blue Mountains in December 2006, would not be in vain.
It could not be. The couple had already endured so much.
The Iredales were at their home in Pymble on December 19 when they learned that the body of the eldest of their three sons had been found off the Mount Solitary track, close to the Kedumba River and the water he so desperately needed. Mrs Iredale spoke to David just hours before he died, when he called home to wish his younger brother a happy birthday. He asked her if she had any mango ice-cream left. Hours later, he made desperate phone calls to triple-0 before dying alone in the bush.
As David's dentist, Dr Iredale had the heartbreaking task of providing his son's dental records for formal identification.
Added to the couple's grief are admissions of serious misconduct by emergency call operators from the Ambulance Service, who responded to David's cries for help with sarcasm and failed to pass on vital information to police which could have saved his life.
There is also uncertainty about whether a teacher at David's school, Sydney Grammar School, could have prevented David and two of his friends from embarking on the walk, which they believed would count towards their Duke of Edinburgh Award qualifications.
Over the past two weeks at the inquest Dr Iredale, 59, who has a dental practice near the family home in Pymble, has kept his emotions in check, madly scribbling notes from the evidence on a pad marked “things to do”.
In contrast, Mrs Iredale, 45, could not hide her feelings. Her tears flowing freely as four members of the ambulance call centre apologised for their performance while taking David's calls.
She also cried as Phillip Chan and Kostas Brooks, David's two walking companions and the last to see him alive, revealed details of her son's final hours. Their presence at the inquest – Mr Chan is studying science and law at university and Mr Brooks is studying to be a doctor – was undoubtedly a painful reminder of the bright future that David so tragically missed out on.
Mrs Iredale could not endure listening to the heartbreaking tapes of David's phone calls to emergency services.
The parents had already heard two of the calls during the search to confirm that the desperate voice on the other end of the line was in fact their son.
On Thursday Mrs Iredale attended the inquest without her husband, who it is believed had work commitments.
She could not face listening to crucial evidence from a survival expert, Dr Paul Luckin, who calculated that David would not have survived more than one hour after his final phone call to triple-0, having lost about 7.5 litres of water during the summer heat.
Nor could she bear to hear Dr Luckin tell the court David had likely been “at the point of no return” when he made the triple-0 calls, or that he would have been dizzy, confused and light-headed before he lost consciousness for the last time.
She was not in court to hear Dr Luckin's assessment that David's death would have been “relatively peaceful”.
But Mrs Iredale later privately met Dr Luckin, who it is understood repeated those consoling words.
While the inquest is due to conclude soon, no findings will be able to bring David Iredale back. But they may provide some comfort to his family that such a tragedy may not happen again.