CTV staff comfort each other as rescue personnel work to
rescue people trapped in the collapsed CTV building. Photo
from The Star.
If fire chiefs hadn't gone ''missing in action'' during
the major event they had trained for, Alec Cvetanov believes
his wife might have been pulled alive from the rubble of the
The six-storey Christchurch office block collapsed in the
February 22, 2011 earthquake, killing 115 people.
A key coroner's report into the deaths of eight people who
survived the collapse, but died before they could be rescued,
is being released today.
The 20,000-word report clears the ''outstanding, courageous,
and selfless'' search and rescue teams of contributing to the
deaths of Tamara Cvetanova, of Serbia; Cheng Mai of China;
Rika Hyuga, of Japan; and Jessie Redouble, Emmabelle Anoba,
Ezra Medalle, Reah Sumalpong and Mary Amantillo, all from the
But father-of-two Mr Cvetanov, who spoke to his trapped wife
six times by cellphone and told rescuers of her exact
location, says coroner Gordon Matenga then contradicts
himself by saying, ''more people, more resources, better
communication and a better structure ... may have improved
the chances of saving more lives''.
Mr Cvetanov (53) says better communication and direction from
top management would have saved lives.
''I believe the outcome would have been much better. That
doesn't necessarily mean that Tamara is rescued, but more
people would have been.''
The inquest in late 2012 heard crucial rescue gear was not
made available to all CTV rescuers as they scrambled over the
mountainous debris of twisted steel and shattered concrete.
The New Zealand Fire Service, which runs the USAR teams, was
meant to be the lead agency at the site, given the fire,
which broke out in the lift shaft.
Two USAR teams scrambled from the North Island were separated
from their gear - against international guidelines - and
arrived after a team from Australia. And rescuers working on
the eastern side of the collapsed building where Dr Cvetanova
was known to be alive, did not know about critical cutting
equipment and listening devices being used on the western
Had the gear been made available, Mr Cvetanov believes his
wife, a 42-year-old Serbian paediatrician who was studying
English at the King's Education language school on the fourth
floor of the building, could have been pulled out alive.
Such organisation and decisions should have been made by Fire
Service executive officers.
But Mr Cvetanov says the 13 executive officers in the city
that day went ''missing in action''. They failed to take
charge of the disaster zone, set up an incident control point
or manage resources and manpower.
Mr Matenga said it was ''difficult for me to understand'' why
they failed to step up.
''This goes to the heart of what happened,'' said Nigel
Hampton QC, who represented the Cvetanov and Hyuga families
at the inquest.
''The people on the ground did superb work, did everything
possible within their constrictions to get out trapped
''Where they were let down, in terms of personnel, in terms
of resources, equipment and so on, was in the structure above
''Why would 13 executive officers not impose an incident
control point at the site and not take command of that site?
''As Captain [Ernesto] Ojeda said, the coroner's only expert,
why would you not want to play in the game that you trained
for all your life? Why would you go missing? And when they go
missing, then all those command structures and the control
that should have been there go missing as well.''
The coroner made eight recommendations aimed at improving
search and rescue operations.
The Fire Service says it has already either completed or
started work on all of the recommendations.
1. Fire Service, Defence Force, Air New Zealand and DHL to
establish a memorandum of understanding to ensure the
expeditious deployment of USAR teams and undertake joint
2. USAR technicians to undertake specialist heavy machinery
3. USAR technicians to be International Air Transport
Association (IATA) certified.
4. For all major disasters where international assistance is
sought or accepted, it become the default position that a
request be made to United Nations for the assistance of an
5. Fire Service, in conjunction with the Civil Defence
Emergency Management Group, develop and undertake joint
exercises with such Light Response Teams that have been
established by local authorities.
6. Fire Service to develop a standard operating procedure
following an earthquake.
7. Fire Service and police to develop and undertake further
training in incident management and to emphasise the need to
cooperate to establish an Incident Control Point and an
Incident Controller in the USAR environment.
8. The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management to
give consideration to amending the CIMS model to provide for
the situation where there are multiple sub-incidents.
By Kurt Bayer, of APNZ.