ZACH BRAY had survived a shock cancer diagnosis and was on top of the world when his life was tragically cut short in the Hunter Valley bus crash.
His heartbroken mother Jacqui Varasdi sat down with the Australian Women's Weekly to detail her family's quest for a safer world to honour her son, forever 29.
"He was a lucky unlucky one," she told the magazine.
Zach had devoted his life to raising awareness and helping others after he was told he had bowel cancer four years ago.
He confronted it with determination and grit.
But on June 11, tragedy struck.
Zach was on a bus back to Singleton after celebrating a wedding in the Hunter Valley when the coach rolled at Greta and 10 people - his mates - were killed.
"He was the happiest I'd ever heard him the day before," Ms Varasdi said.
"They had a fantastic day ... they're all together and that, for me, is comforting to know."
Ms Varasdi said her son was passionate about bowel cancer awareness.
"I look at it and I have to try and make some sense out of 'why him?'," she said.
"He was determined to spread that word. That's my focus and that's what I want, to continue to spread what he started."
She said his surgery had been a success.
"After that, he got his pilot's licence and was determined to live life to the fullest," she said.
"He really packed a lot in. I know he just gave it his everything."
Young, fit, healthy and hard-working when he was diagnosed at just 25 years old, Zach's father Adam Bray said he thought it should have been him, not his "Zachy".
"He became my hero through my seeing what he was doing through the cancer," Mr Bray told the Weekly.
Zach's family were horrified to discover, as they tried to make some sense of the tragedy, that bus safety design and technology in Australia was more than a decade behind the times.
After surviving cancer, becoming a pilot, and working as a mining engineer, Zach was very safety conscious, his parents said.
"It's just the fact that he'd put his life in someone else's hands, doing what you're meant to do - that's the hardest pill to swallow," Ms Varasdi said.
Mr Bray vowed he would do anything to make buses and coaches safer for everyone.
"I made some promises, holding my dead son's hand in a forensic medicine centre in Newcastle," he said.
The first one: "Fix this, so it doesn't happen again.
"My mission is to keep the issue front and centre as long as we can to achieve that. If Zachy had survived, he'd be doing what I'm doing. He's not here so that's my job."
He said an apathetic and unsafe system had taken away his best friend.
A group of survivors, families and experts have rallied under the banner STOP Bus Tragedies, and developed a plan to reduce road trauma.
They're working with the NSW government and are pushing for a federal bus safety taskforce.
The Weekly also spoke with Leanne Mullen, mother of Singleton doctor Bec Mullen, as all those affected face their first Christmas since the tragedy rocked communities.
The Australian Women's Weekly Christmas edition is on sale from today.