STANDING some 450 metres tall, the iconic Omega tower has dominated the Woodside skyline since it was commissioned as a military communications tower during the height of the Cold War.
As the tallest man-made structure in the southern hemisphere, the tower has become somewhat of a tourist attraction for motorists along the South Gippsland Highway.
So when drivers-by saw photographers clustered strategically behind caution tape yesterday morning, they could sense a visual spectacular of another kind was about to unfold.
The opportunistic drivers who pulled over for a fence line vantage point were not disappointed by the industrial carnage that followed.
With kilometre-long steel cables supporting the structure slackened, the tower could be seen bowing at its upper heights, as an onsite radio called out periodical warnings of an impending blast.
A countdown from 10 hit zero moments before explosives on three support cables were blown, sending a heart-pounding blast reverberating across the property.
The clap of a shockwave was felt on this reporter’s chest, as the tower began to bow and buckle under its own weight.
The slow motion spectacle of the structure bending and folding into itself was matched by a haunting screech of steel under stress, which echoed long after the tower collapsed into a crumpled heap of destruction.
Three weeks of preparations by demolition contractor Liberty Industrial had gone off without a hitch, the onsite project manager clearly pleased with the result.
Commissioned in 1982, the Omega tower formed part of a global radio navigation system enabling ships and aircraft to determine their positions through low frequency radio signals transmitted through a network of towers across the globe.
Despite anti-war alarm the tower could be used to guide a submarine’s nuclear launch, the tower’s use continued until it was surpassed by global position system technology in the 1990s.
Used as a transmitter for submarines until 2008, the Omega tower’s story became marred in tragedy, after a base jumper fell to his death in January last year.
“That was a tragic event. We had put improved security measures in place, but that risk has been part of that motivation to remove the tower,” Defence Force director of state and facility services Michael Pollock said.
With maintenance costs in the “tens of thousands” every year, defence could no longer justify its continued existence while providing a considerable trophy for the base jumping community.
“The local community sees it as a tourist attraction, but defence sees it as a liability and it needs to go,” he said in the moments before the tower’s collapse.
The next few months will be spent ‘decontaminating’ the 353 hectare site, which will now be sold off after the wreckage is cleared.