A search and rescue expert today denied a lack of specialist
equipment cost lives at the CTV Building collapse, which
killed 115 people in last February's earthquake.
The six-storey Christchurch office block came down in the
magnitude-6.3 quake, and some survivors trapped in the rubble
used cellphones to alert friends, family and emergency
services that they were still alive.
Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams from across New Zealand
rushed to the disaster site.
One specialist USAR technician Ian Penn today told an inquest
how he used hand tools, including crowbars, bolt-cutters,
sledgehammers and breakers, to dig a hole to try to rescue
He denied claims from fellow USAR colleagues that the
slow-moving process to cut through layers of the "pancaked"
building, including through reinforced steel and concrete,
was hampered by a lack of concrete cutting tools and core
The machinery would have got caught up in the tangled debris
and become "un-useable", he said.
Mr Penn was speaking at a coroner's inquest into the deaths
of Dr Tamara Cvetanova (Eds: correct) of Serbia, Cheng Mai of
China, Japan's Rika Hyuga, and Jessie Redouble, Emmabelle
Anoba, Ezra Medalle, Reah Sumalpong and Mary Amantillo, all
from the Philippines.
All were students at King's Education School for English
Language on the concrete tower's third floor, and survived
the collapse but could not be rescued alive.
Mr Penn was scrambled from Palmerston North's USAR taskforce,
and arrived at the CTV site around 12.30am on February 23 -
12 hours after the quake hit, bringing down the building and
starting a fire.
USAR is a crack unit that specialises in finding and
recovering people in dangerous situations. It comprise
firefighters, dog handlers, communications experts,
engineers, doctors and paramedics.
Mr Penn told of getting a "live hit" when searching for
He'd yelled and tapped on one patch of debris and got an
instant reply. He repeated it three times, and got three
"It sounded so close and right below me," he said.
USAR workers then spent several hours wearing breathing
masks, goggles, and heavy duty jackets to cut the hole as
"yellow/green acrid smoke" poured out of it, getting more
intense the deeper they went.
Only two corpses - a male and a female - were found.
Under cross examination from Nigel Hampton QC, on behalf of
Srecko 'Alec' Cvetanov (correct) who spoke to his wife Tamara
via cellphone while she was trapped, Mr Penn admitted he was
unaware that Delsar listening equipment was being used by
USAR colleagues on the other side of the CTV site.
Mr Hampton said the lack of communication over such a
potentially critical piece of equipment appeared an
Mr Penn agreed and accepted that the site lacked a central
command point to control logistics, which might have been
able to step in and "solve the Delsar issue".
A lack of understanding by the Fire Service over what USAR
did and how it operated was an issue at the time of the
Canterbury earthquakes, he said.
Senior fire managers should be made to go on USAR courses to
learn more about them, he said, but he had not seen any
evidence of that happening yet.
The inquest, before Coroner Gordon Matenga, continues.