Man told of wife's CTV death

Last updated 15:11 05/12/2012
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SORRY: Paul McGill

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A widower broke down after hearing details of his wife's death in the Canterbury Television building collapse.

The final week of a coroner's inquest today heard evidence into the deaths of eight victims who were known to have been alive after the CTV building collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake but were unable to be rescued.

Serbian-born paediatrician Tamara Cvetanova survived the collapse but was most likely crushed to death more than 12 hours later, the inquest was told.

Cvetanova, a mother-of-two, was at King's Education on the building's third floor when the quake struck.

She later contacted her husband Alec Cvetanov by telephone to report she had sustained minor injuries and was trapped with at least four others.

Cvetanov kept in contact until about 11.30pm, when his wife turned off her phone to conserve battery power.

They never spoke again.

Forensic pathologist Martin Sage, who performed the autopsy, said Cvetanova's likely cause of death was ''massive crush injuries''.

A full autopsy was not performed because his instructions had been identification only.

''I can't exclude the possibility that she may have inhaled some smoke and fumes, but the extent of that inhalation does not appear to be major,'' Sage said.

Alec Cvetanov broke down as Sage recounted details of his wife's injuries.

He told the inquest this week he wanted to know whether she died in the fire that swept through the building or was crushed by debris.

The inquest heard earlier fire and police "dropped the baton" by failing to ensure staff knew who was in charge at the CTV site.

Fire Service operations and training director Paul McGill said fire should have taken over from police as lead agency after the first crews arrived about 1.30pm on February 22.

Evidence heard at the inquest suggested the lack of a formal handover led to confusion, he said.

Emergency services would have been "massively distracted".

"What I've seen from the evidence is a lack of clarity 12 hours later or longer about who was the incident controller," McGill said.

"That indicates to me that somehow that baton got dropped. Police thought that baton transitioned to fire and fire thought it was still with police.

"I'm not blaming anybody, but with the pressure of the situation, that formality which is necessary to hand that baton over did not occur."

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A national response plan started after the September 2010 quake was "well underway" when the February quake struck."

However, there were no live rescues in September.

"In September we learnt a lot, but it didn't test us like February did," McGill said.

The inquest is being streamed live on the Justice Ministry's coronial services unit website.

- The Press

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