Engineer came close to victim

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 15:21 06/11/2012
Saskia Rose
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ

Fire Service station officer Saskia Rose.

Luke pickering std
David Hallett
Structural engineer Luke Pickering.
Anthony West
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ
Urban search and rescue squad leader Anthony West.

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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An engineer believes he came within five metres of a survivor trapped in the Canterbury Television building who was not rescued.

Engineer Luke Pickering arrived at the collapsed building site on the night of the February 22, 2011, with listening equipment.

He told a coroner's inquest in Christchurch this afternoon that he moved down the east side of the CTV site, tapping concrete and listening for a response.

Close to the southeastern corner, he got one.

"Each time [I tapped the rubble] I received a corresponding series of taps,'' he said.

"It was very regular and definitely came after we did our series of taps."

He gave his headphones to another engineer with him for a second opinion and he agreed.

Pickering said he heard a woman's voice.

"It was possibly a shout but it was not a discernible word,'' he said.

"I am certain it was a female but it was only one shout or sound."

Pickering believed he was no more than 5m from the person making the sound.

He had 35 years experience in sound detection and amplitude, he said, and did successful experiments after the event to test his methods.

The listening equipment was usually used to detect leaks in underground water pipes.

Pickering told nearby firefighters of his findings and soon after "delayering" of the rubble in the area started.

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The force of the work worried Pickering.

"The concern was the grabbing and sliding off ... of debris," he said.

"It would seem to me that lifting debris carefully ... in an organised process perhaps would have been more conducive [to keeping anyone trapped out of harms way].

Pickering also spoke to Alec Cvetanov, who was in contact with his trapped wife at the time.

Tamara Cvetanova was one of eight people who were known to have been alive after the CTV building collapsed but were unable to be rescued and died.

Lack of gear 'biggest challenge'

Search and rescue equipment delayed in getting to Christchurch from the North Island would have been "pretty advantageous" in rescuing people trapped in the Canterbury Television building, the inquest heard.

Urban Search and Rescue (Usar) squad leader Anthony West today told a coroner's inquest that a lack of gear was the "biggest challenge" at the CTV building, which collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake.

"We simply were not set up with enough gear for the size of the event that we experienced in Christchurch," he said.

West recounted how he met Alec Cvetanov, whose wife was trapped, and worked with him to pinpoint where she was.

All were students at the King's Education English-language school on the third floor.

West and Cvetanov identified a 16-square-metre area on the east side of the building where she was likely to be.

"Ideally, I would have liked to have narrowed the search area down to a two or three-square-metre area," West said.

"It takes around 30 to 45 minutes to dig a bore hole down to that level. It would have been almost impossible to cover the 16-square-metre area in that way."

Listening equipment known as Delsar would have been ideal, he said, but the only kit in Christchurch was being used at the Pyne Gould Corporation building collapse.

Usar Task Force One, en route from Palmerston North at the time, had gear that could have been used, he said.

"[They had] a boring machine which the camera would fit down. That would have been pretty advantageous,'' he said.

"Any time you've got more gear or manpower, it always ups the possibilities."

Fire Service special operations national manager Jim Stuart-Black told the inquest yesterday that North Island-based Usar crews were sent to Christchurch by plane and their gear by road. Both were delayed.

West said he was expecting them to arrive between 9pm and 11pm, and was not told otherwise.

The teams arrived at Latimer Square, close to the CTV site, at midnight.

'We still need training'

The Fire Service was not prepared to deal with an emergency like the CTV building collapse and little has changed since, the inquest heard.

Station officer Saskia Rose today told a coroner's inquest in Christchurch that no-one appeared to be in charge of the site when she arrived late in the afternoon of February 22, 2011.

The building had collapsed in the earthquake and fire had broken out.

Rose felt this meant the Fire Service should be in charge, but "any one organisation would have been an improvement".

"No-one seemed to know who was in overall charge. We were missing the people at the top,'' she said.

''I did not see any white helmets [senior Fire Service staff]. An area commander really should have been at a site like that."

There was a lack of leadership, direction and preparation for the disaster, she said.

"We needed and still need better training. I do not feel we are any better prepared than we were before the earthquake,'' she said.

"The [CTV] site was beyond our gear."

Staff now had "more gear", she said, but needed specific quake-response training such as being able to quickly check the safety of structures and the use of heavy equipment.

Rose tried to set up a command centre at the CTV site as it clearly needed one.

"I could see it was a function that needed to be done and every other officer I could see on the site was fully engaged."

A fire truck with a volunteer crew arrived, and Rose told them to park on the corner of Cashel and Madras streets and start setting up a command post.

"When I returned after being on the west side of the building the appliance had gone."

Rose said the Cashel St-Madras St corner was a "poor place" to park, and someone else may have told the crew to move on.

Stuart-Black yesterday told the inquest changes to the Usar structure had been implemented since the quakes.

Staff now had ranks, aligned to the Fire Service's, and had blue overalls instead of black to encourage a "blended identity" with the Fire Service.

The changes were in response to the September 2010 quake, he said, but were not in place by February 2011.

The inquest is hearing evidence on the deaths of Tamara Cvetanova, Jessie Redouble, Emmabelle Anoba, Ezra Medalle, Reah Sumalpong, Rika Hyuga, Chang Lai and Mary Amantillo.

The inquest will run for two weeks and reconvene for a final week at the start of December.

- The Press

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