Witnesses tell of CTV collapse

'I could not wait to get out'

Last updated 16:43 26/06/2012

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

LATEST: David Bainbridge's evidence was read to the Canterbury earthquakes 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 to level 6, 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 50-cent 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 and 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, Ann 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 rubble found

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

Alan Edge said the fire that started near the lift shaft after the February 22 quake travelled some distance under the rubble.

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

He received a call from the Fire Service and police asking for Southern Demolition to go to the CTV building because 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 finding survivors and bodies.

When he arrived he could see smoke. At that stage the fire was localised to the lift-shaft area.

Flames then 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 two to three hours, then returned for another 18 to 19 hours.

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

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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 rubble.

The fire continued for a few days, he said.

Roofer threw mate to safety

A roofer working on the building when the February 2011 quake 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.''

Masonry not filled

A contractor working on a wall of the CTV building left exposed by a demolition next door says he was "surprised'' when he found a row of masonry blocks were not filled in with concrete.

Bruce Campbell is director of Bruce Campbell Roofing Ltd, which was contracted by Placemakers to undertake the weatherproofing work on the first three levels of the CTV building.

While undertaking the work, which started on February 21, he noticed that the horizontal beam and columns on the western wall had been poured about 20-40 millimetres out of line with each other.

However he did not have any concerns about the structural integrity.

"It was more a nuisance that they weren't built to a straight line to what I was trying to achieve.''

When he found the row of blocks not filled in with concrete he was not sure if it was structural.

"I assumed it couldn't be filled because it was at the top of the row so was slotted in last and the horizontal beam would have impeded filling it."

He never went inside the building.

'Like September 11'

Watching the Canterbury Television building collapse was like "seeing the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings'', a witness says.

Michael Williams was in the nearby Inland Revenue building when the February 2011 earthquake hit and saw the CTV building come down once the shaking stopped.

During the Canterbury earthquakes royal commission hearing today, Williams likened the collapse to that of the September 11, 2001, Twin Towers in New York.

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

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

Williams went to the CTV site and was surprised the building had fallen into a square shape.

He helped rescue people who had been on level 6. Most had not realised the building had collapsed.

Smoke appeared to be coming up from under the rubble, he said.

The aftershocks came as they were climbing on the rubble and he was worried the elevator shaft would come down.

Williams was the third witness of the building collapse to be called.

After the September 4, 2010, quake, he did not see any construction work on the CTV building.

He saw some paintwork that was being carried out on the fifth floor, but that was all.

Building appeared to be 'trembling'

The commission heard from the general manager of Blackwells Motors in Madras St.

Stephen Grenfell was in his car outside the entrance to Blackwells on the east side of Madras St and watched the CTV building collapse.

About five seconds into the quake, the Blackwells parapet fell beside his car.

He decided to get out, and as he shut the car door he turned to the CTV building.

It was "twisting'' and "appeared to be trembling".

"I could tell it was going to collapse,'' he said.

He got back into his car for protection.

It was at this point the building started to come down. It twisted to the east before he saw the southeast corner collapse.

Levels 1 and 2 appeared to go first, then the rest of the building appeared to twist as it collapsed.

The northeast end was more intact, he said.

His initial reaction was that one pillar dropped and then the rest dropped.

'Horrific sound'

Former CTV employee Tom Hawker recalled the "horrific" sound as he watched his workplace collapse during the February 2011 quake.

The former presentation director had left work to buy lunch that day, and told the commission he was in 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 5 and then this level collapsed first and sort of pancaked down, which in turn pancaked the rest of the floors below,'' he said.

"Level 6 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 in 2010.

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

"There was some concern among 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."

Pillars exploded

Penelope Spencer described how pillars "exploded" about 10 seconds after the quake hit.

The CTV production assistant had been on her lunch break and was walking back to the CTV building with 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 "explode'' 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 said CTV staff 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 quake, 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.

Building 'chased' receptionist

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

As the only person on level 1, she knew her colleagues on the floor above "did not have a chance".

Mary-Anne Jackson's evidence was read to the commission.

Her statement concluded evidence from survivors who were inside the building when it collapsed.

Jackson, a CTV receptionist since 1991, was standing beside her desk when the quake hit.

She grabbed 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 to the door.

She recalled looking back at her handbag and realising she did not have time to go back and get it.

"I hit my head on the side of the door, or something hit me as I went through.''

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.''

'Something changed'

The commission heard evidence from Margaret Aydon, who worked for King's Education.

She said that something changed in the CTV building after the Boxing Day 2010 quakes.

She said staff had already felt unsafe in the building after the September 2010 quake, and their concerns were regularly raised both informally and formally at staff meetings.

Aydon started working there in October 2010.

She noticed cracks in pillars and walls and the floor was clearly not level as her pens and pencils would roll on her desk in a southeast direction.

This got worse after the Boxing Day quakes.

"There was a big difference in how the building felt," she said.

"Some days the movement of the building was so bad I felt seasick."

"We wouldn't know if it was an aftershock or the diggers working on the site next door.

"It was just a constant sense of bobbing around."

King's manager Brian Taylor sent an email that the building had been assessed after the Boxing Day quakes and the building was safe to occupy.

"I queried when the inspection had been done. I never received an answer," Aydon said.

Taylor perished in the quake.

Aydon gave emotional testimony of how she and a student escaped from the building.

Both were initially trapped on either side of her desk but managed to crawl out of the rubble using a cellphone as a torch.

Aydon did not realise how bad things were until she was standing in Latimer Square.

Eight-week hearing

More than 80 witnesses will be called during the royal commission, which will cover the initial building consent issued by the Christchurch City Council, the construction and design, identification of a structural weakness in 1990, and the assessment after the September 4 and Boxing Day quakes in 2010.

The commission has until November 12 to complete its work.

- The Press


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