Witnesses tell of CTV collapse

JOELLE DALLY AND MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 16:33 26/06/2012
CTV building
COMPLETELY DESTROYED: The CTV Building on February 22, 2011.
CTV survivors
DIMITRI HOWARD/Fairfax NZ
CTV survivors

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A man who was attending relationship sessions on the sixth floor of the CTV building was so anxious about its safety he could not wait to get out.

Eyewitness accounts of the building's collapse were being heard by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission today.

David Bainbridge's evidence was read to the royal commission hearing this afternoon, although he was present to answer questions.

In his statement, Bainbridge, a former builder, said he visited the building three times to attend sessions with his wife, Leanne.

On his second and third visits, on February 2 and February 16, 2011, he noticed damage "which concerned me.''

When walking out of the lift onto level 6 on the third visit, he noticed the internal column in the foyer had at least three large cracks and other hairline cracks.

"These ran all around the column,'' he said.

There were also flakes of concrete the size of a 50cent coin around the bottom of the column.

He could also see water damage around the top of the column.

"It looked like the column had performed to its capacity in the previous earthquakes, but would fail in any further events,'' he said.

Bainbridge also noticed an exterior spandrel on the outside of the building between levels 5 and 6 was chipped, damaged and was not in line with the building.

"From what I observed I believe it had suffered significant movement prior and had at some stage been compressed against the North Core.''

He asked his counsellor, Anne Malcolm, who survived the collapse, about what he had observed.

"She told me that they had been told the building was safe and had been signed off.''

He had wanted to take photos on his cellphone as he was leaving but the lift arrived.

"I felt so uneasy about being in the building I could not wait to get out."

Bainbridge expressed his concerns to his wife in the foyer downstairs.

"Leanne said to me, "You're quite concerned about this aren't you?".

"I told her I was and did not know about how the building could have been signed off.''

CHARRED FURNITURE

The director of Southern Demolition found charred furniture as rubble was cleared from the CTV building's wreckage.

Alan Edge said in his evidence that by February 23, the fire that started near the lift shaft had travelled some distance under the main rubble.

Edge was at the company office at Mowbray St when the February 22 quake hit.

He received a call from the fire service and police asking for Southern Demolition to go to the CTV building, as it had collapsed.

He arrived with four operators, two high reach diggers and a 30 tonne excavator after about two hours.

He said the demolition his company carried out was solely for the purpose of finding survivors and bodies.

When he arrived the fire was already smouldering and he could see smoke. At that stage it was localised to the lift shaft area.

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Eventually flames became visible, indicating the fire was burning underneath, he said.

He estimated a third of the building was smouldering.

He stayed at the CTV site for 19 hours, went home to sleep for 2-3 hours, then returned for another 18-19 hours.

When he returned the fire was still smouldering but he did not recall seeing flames.

As rubble was pulled away, charred furniture was visible underneath.

Edge said this confirmed the fire had travelled some distance from the lift shaft under the main rubble.

The fire continued for a few days, he said.

ROOFER THREW MATE TO SAFETY

A roofer working on the Canterbury Television building when the February 2011 earthquake hit grabbed his workmate by the toolbelt and threw him to safety.

Leonard Fortune was waterproofing the western wall of the building at the time of the collapse.

He had first arrived at the site on February 21.

The task was to level the walls, add timber battening and seal the wall with sheets of iron. The demolition of a building to the west of the CTV building had left three floors of the western wall exposed.

On February 21, 2011, he had to go inside the building to run a lead to do the work.

The building made "weird groaning noises" even when demolition was not going on nearby.

He told his colleagues that people should not be working in there.

"It just didn't feel right.''

As part of the work they were doing, the crew had to drill into the building to put up cladding.

He said they found that the top rows of masonry blocks along each section of masonry work were hollow and did not appear to be lined up correctly.

At one point during their work, someone told him that some masonry blocks had fallen through to the other side of where they were working, which was the level 1 car park.

The crew was halfway through the second day of a two-day job when the quake hit on February 22.

Fortune and colleague James Askew were standing on a scissor lift and when the shaking started, the scissor lift and the building seemed to jump, he said.

"The vertical movement was probably about 200 millimetres," he said.

Fortune looked up and saw the top of the building had swayed about 1.5 metres to the west.

When the masonry blocks started spitting out into the cladding paper "it was at this point I could see we had to get away from the building", he said.

Seeing Askew struggling to get to the door, he grabbed him by his toolbelt and threw him over the scissor lift in a bid to get him to safety.

At this point, he saw that a column between levels 2 and 3 had cracked. The steel had fractured out and the column was buckling under the weight.

He pushed a piece of concrete coming towards him out of the way, which thrust him out of the lift. He then curled up on the ground next to the wheel.

He said from his view it "looked like a war zone".

The masonry blocks he had been working on had "completely disintegrated".

"It looked like the building had fallen into a hole.''

PILLARS 'EXPLODED'

Penelope Spencer has described how pillars on the CTV "exploded" about 10 seconds after the quake.

The production assistant at CTV had been on her lunch break and was walking back to the CTV building with then-CTV employee Tom Hawker.

When the shaking started, the building started to sway, then collapsed after about 10 seconds.

She saw two concrete pillars on the south side of the fifth level "exploded" outwards, with all four pillars collapsing at the same time.

The floors began pancaking, but the top floor dropped and stayed intact until it hit the rubble of the lower floors below, she said.

Spencer also said that staff at CTV used to make a joke of jumping on level 2 to make the building move.

It would not move that way before the September 2010 earthquake, she said.

The shaking got worse during demolition of the building next door.

She had also noticed cracks in a pillar after the Boxing Day 2010 quakes.

'HORRIFIC' SOUND

Hawker recalled the "horrific" sound as he watched his workplace collapse.

The former presentation director had left work to buy lunch that day, and told the commission he was on Cashel St, south of the building, when the quake struck.

The fifth floor gave way first, he said, sparking a chain reaction below.

"I saw cracking appear on level five and then this level collapsed first and sort of pancaked down, which in turn pancaked the rest of the floors below.

"Level six fell as a whole, it stayed intact as it fell and did not collapse until it hit the rubble at the bottom. The sound was horrific."

Hawker feared the building would collapse towards him because of the extent it swayed before coming down, but said it fell "straight down", taking about 12 seconds.

"My car was parked right beside the south wall of the building ... only my bonnet, bumper and windscreen were damaged."

Hawker said he did not always feel safe in the building after the September 2010 quake, and his anxiety increased after the Boxing Day shake.

"After Boxing Day I definitely noticed the floor felt less stable. If a truck drove past the building would shake.

"There was some concern amongst the CTV staff about the fact that we were on the bottom two levels of the building. People were concerned that if [it] did come down, there were a lot of floors above us."

'JUST LIKE 9/11'

Watching The CTV building collapse was "exactly like seeing the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings", an eyewitness says.

Michael Williams was in the nearby IRD building when the quake hit, and saw it come down once the shaking stopped.

He likened the collapse to that of the September 11 World Trade Center twin towers.

"The top floated down and was engulfed by dust," he said.

He did not see any pillars collapse, rather he described the collapse as if the building was sinking into a black hole.

BUILDING 'CHASED' WOMAN

A CTV receptionist has described the building "chasing her" as she fled across the road with it collapsing behind.

As the only person on level one, she knew her colleagues on the floor above "did not have a chance."

Jackson, a receptionist at CTV since 1991, was standing beside her desk when the quake hit. She grabbed onto the desk when the shaking started.

"The sound was horrific. Like a jet plane landing on the roof. I sensed the building was breaking up," she said.

"After seven or eight seconds, I knew I had to get out of there."

She ran straight across Madras St and looked over her shoulder as she ran.

"I could see the building collapsing behind me. It felt like the building was chasing me as I ran," she said.

"I would have been across the road in seconds. When I turned around the building was completely down. It had pancaked."

- The Press

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