Hearing told of survival after CTV plunge

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2012
CTV survivors
DIMITRI HOWARD/Fairfax NZ
CTV survivors

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A mother has described how it felt to be "sucked downwards" with her two children from the top floor of the collapsing Canterbury Television (CTV) building.

Kendyll Mitchell was at Relationship Services, on the sixth floor of the CTV building, for trauma counselling for her then 3-year-old son Jett when the earthquake struck on February 22, 2011.

Jett had been "petrified" of his bedroom since the September 4, 2010, quake, Mitchell said, and would not sleep in his bed.

She told the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, which started its eight-week investigation into the CTV building collapse yesterday, she grabbed her son and then 10-month-old daughter Dita when she felt the shaking start.

"I remember feeling like I was being sucked downwards because the floor was going down, fast. It was like the building stayed in place and we were sucked down in a vacuum."

Mitchell was knocked unconscious for about 10 minutes by the collapse. When she came to, Jett told her he had had to "look after" his little sister while she was "asleep".

"I was in so much pain. My leg was cut and bleeding and my blood was all over the children," she said.

"I could ... see thick, black smoke starting to rise from the rubble. I thought, 'Oh God, we have survived and now this'."

The trio were pulled from the rubble by "Evan" – a man on his lunchbreak from a nearby worksite.

"Thank you does not seem enough," she said.

Relationship Services counsellor Liz Cammock was on the same floor as Mitchell and her children.

Cammock described the initial shake as like "being tipped over backwards".

"I could see my colleagues in the room sliding towards me.

"I sat there and gripped my chair as the building began shaking uncontrollably. I remember seeing ... twisted metal, exploding glass, I just remember craziness."

Cammock soon realised she was not badly injured, but could not comprehend how far she had fallen: "People were looking at us with shocked faces and I remember wondering how they had got up there and were so close. I still hadn't registered that the building had collapsed. I guess my brain had switched off."

Fellow counsellor Nilgun Kulpe described the pancake-like collapse as like "being in an elevator that had reached the ground floor".

"I was surprised to see we were just a metre off the ground. I thought when we stopped we were just one level down. It didn't feel like all the way," she said.

"When I finally looked out I was completely gobsmacked that we had travelled all the way down."

Pip Lee, receptionist at general practice The Clinic one floor below, was the only person to survive the collapse on the fifth storey. She emotionally recounted being trapped in a "bubble" after the building came down.

"I could only move my left arm," she said.

"I remember feeling the threads of the carpet flooring in front of me and I could also feel that the concrete floor slab had broken.

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"My right hand was ... pinned between the desktop and what I believe was the wall. I still have the marking of the desk `wood' on the palm of my hand."

Eyewitness accounts will continue today with King's Education staff member Margaret Aydon, CTV receptionist Maryanne Jackson and eyewitnesses who saw the building collapse from the outside.

Counsel assisting the commission, Stephen Mills, QC, yesterday described Jackson's good fortune on the day of the fatal quake: "[She] appears to have been so convinced that the building was at risk ... that she was known by her colleagues at CTV to run from the building each time there was an aftershock, a practice that served her very well."

Jackson followed this routine on February 22 and was the only CTV employee in the building to survive the collapse.

 

- The Press

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