'Where's Matti? Where's Matti?'
Matthew Mceachen was only metres from safety when the facade of his tattoo parlour collapsed and killed him.
Following behind him, a receptionist at Southern Ink on Colombo St broke her back and her neck but managed to crawl through the debris and survive, friends said.
She was reportedly in hospital yesterday as tributes poured in for Mr Mceachen, 25. Friends said people fell in love with him instantly and colleagues called him "the oil in the machine in the shop".
Despite at least 75 deaths in the city, Mr Mceachen is one of the few people known to have died. It was disclosed yesterday that another was Crusaders rugby board member Philip McDonald, of Ashburton.
He was a director of accountancy firm Leech and Partners, and was working in the Pyne Gould Corporation building that was flattened in the disaster.
Friend Jak Parkin said of Mr Mceachen yesterday: "He is going to leave a void in all of us that will be so much larger than his actual physical size. He was only little but his heart was so huge."
Mrs Parkin's husband and fellow tattoo artist, Matt Parkin, was smoking in an alley behind the store when the quake struck.
"Matt tried to open the back door to get in to check on them and it was jammed shut. He ran around to the front and he saw Matti's legs."
"[The receptionist] managed to crawl out of a hole where the door used to be and she was saying, `Where's Matti? Where's Matti?"'
Mr Parkin couldn't cope with the discovery. "He just went into shock on the street and couldn't do anything."
Mrs Parkin spoke on behalf of her husband last night, who was too upset to talk. She recalled the "lame music Tuesdays" she spent with Mr Mceachen and friends in the tattoo parlour.
"We'd find the worst, most ridiculous songs that a tattoo shop would play. His favourite song in the world was Liberian Girl by Michael Jackson and we'd have singalongs at the top of our lungs."
He had celebrated his 25th birthday on Saturday with a "massive" party and had got to see all his loved ones.
His father announced his death on Facebook yesterday, prompting a flood of tributes as friends spoke of the effect he had on them.
Nicole Dons was 13 when she met Mr Mceachen at school in Dunedin. He was a talented artist and bass guitarist for the band, The Murderous Seth, she said.
He had taught her to always see the positive side of life, and live life to the full. "He was a really positive guy. He obviously inspired a lot of people."
Andy Greatorex chose Mr Mceachen to give him his first tattoo. They had sung Elton John's Rocket Man during the session.
"It's something that I will wear with pride. Those of us that were marked by him are definitely the lucky few."
The Dominion Post