An international disaster response expert has today praised
the decisions taken by rescuers at the collapsed CTV
building, saying "the man on the ground is always right".
The six-storey Christchurch office block collapsed in the
February 22 earthquake, claiming 115 lives.
Several survivors were pulled from the rubble by police
officers, firefighters, passers-by and Urban Search and
Rescue (USAR) experts.
But at least eight others who survived the initial 'pancake'
collapse at 12.51pm in the magnitude-6.3 quake could not be
pulled out alive from the twisted steel and concrete debris.
At an inquest into their deaths today, Ernesto Ojeda, a
captain in the Los Angeles Fire Department and a 20-year USAR
veteran, said the rescuers on the ground had to call on their
experience and skills to make life-and-death decisions.
"The man on the ground is always right," he said.
"That person has to make the decision based on his experience
and knowledge, and he has to do it now."
While he criticised senior fire managers for failing to take
control of the CTV site, he was astounded by the brave
actions of frontline rescuers.
They worked beneath a precarious lift shaft which was on
fire, had loose debris hanging off it, and could have
collapsed in an aftershock.
Captain Ojeda noted that firefighters took off their helmets
to burrow into man-made tunnels to try to find survivors.
They said they left their helmets behind so if the tunnel
collapsed they could be identified.
Those actions showed they were "right at the limit" of
operations, he said.
"They went beyond the call of duty, that's for sure."
It was not a waste of time to remove debris by hand, he said,
refuting claims made earlier in the inquest that those
efforts were too slow.
Using heavy machinery could have crushed survivors trapped
below, and the call had to be made on the ground.
He saw evidence of text book rescues, with voids being shored
up by blocks and jacks.
USAR chiefs stood back to get an overall picture of the
operation, which was "appropriate", as was splitting the
large site into two separate search areas.
One of the difficulties was fighting the fire, he said, which
was deep-seated, with an unknown origin and unknown cause.
Firefighters tried to "delayer" the debris to try to fight
the fire, but by doing so, they gave oxygen to the fire.
They were "damned if you do, damned if you don't", Captain
"This was as difficult a type of rescue you're likely to come
The coroner's expert witness was giving evidence at an
inquest in Christchurch into the deaths of eight students at
King's Education School for English Language on the concrete
tower's third floor.
Dr Tamara Cvetanova 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, used cellphones to alert friends, family and
emergency services that they had survived the collapse, but
they were not found alive.
The inquest, before Coroner Gordon Matenga, is due to
conclude later today.
- Kurt Bayer of APNZ