Officers did not cross paths at CTV

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 14:33 07/11/2012
Ralph Whiten
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
Senior Fire Service station officer Ralph Whiten.
John Trowsdale
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
Urban search and rescue engineer John Trowsdale.

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Two senior officers leading the police and fire response at the collapsed Canterbury Television building did not cross paths despite both having spent hours on site at the same time, an inquest has heard.

Day eight of an inquest in Christchurch today heard evidence on the deaths of eight victims who were known to have been alive after the building collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake but were unable to be rescued.

Ralph Whiten, a senior station officer with 40 years' experience, said he took charge of the fire response when he arrived at the CTV site about 8.30pm on February 22 last year.

He was directed to who he believed was running the police response, but later came to learn the officer in charge was Sergeant Mike Brooklands.

Whiten said he knew Brooklands well and both had spent hours at the CTV site.

It ''seemed strange'' he had been unaware Brooklands attended the site.

Whiten said his instructions from colleague Dave Berry, who was co-ordinating the rescue effort, were to ''just put out the fire''.

He had wanted to set up command structure, but lacked the experienced officers required and had the manpower to fight the fire only.

''I probably needed three or four more people,'' Whiten said.

Earlier, Urban Search and Rescue engineer John Trowsdale said dragging debris off the building with diggers was "unacceptable and unadvisable".

Trowsdale arrived at the CTV site about 7.30pm on February 22 last year to advise rescue crews on structural safety.

The inquest heard last week that contractors wanted to use heavy machinery to remove beams and columns blocking access to some areas.

Trowsdale said it was not advisable because how the material was connected inside the rubble could not be known.

He supervised short lifts of debris, about 30 to 40 millimetres, using machinery.

"It was carried out with the utmost care," he said.

Trowsdale could not recall debris being dragged off the rubble pile but said it would have been appropriate to remove lighter material higher up with machinery.

Some beams were removed without Trowsdale being consulted.

It was likely an assessment of the risks would have been carried out first, he said.

Cranes could have been used to lift rubble off the pile, but the material could still have collapsed under its own weight, Trowsdale said.

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

- The Press

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