Fatal church collapse recalled

LASTING EFFECT: Moritz Fassbender was in the Durham St Methodist Church when the February 22 earthquake struck.
LASTING EFFECT: Moritz Fassbender was in the Durham St Methodist Church when the February 22 earthquake struck.

Pipe organ builder Moritz Fassbender cannot believe two years have passed since he rescued two colleagues from the rubble of the Durham St Methodist Church.

Mr Fassbender, who works for The South Island Organ Company in Timaru, was in the church with five others when the devastating 6.3 earthquake struck on February 22, 2011.

Only three of them survived - Mr Fassbender, Josh Anderson and Neil Hooper. Those that did not survive were organ company staff Neil Stocker and Scott Lucy and volunteer Paul Dunlop.

Mr Fassbender talked to The Timaru Herald for the first time this week about his experience. He recalls the moment the quake struck as if it was just last week.

"I could see Neil Hooper. He was trapped between some parts of the pipe organ and I could hear Josh, but I couldn't see him.

"We had people who came into the church from the street who were just walking past when it happened, so some of them helped get Neil Hooper out from being trapped and other people were already taking parts [of rubble] off where Josh was."

After both men were freed the workers were told to get out of the building despite still missing three other workers.

"We were told by police it was too dangerous to stay inside to look for the other workers and they told us we had to leave the site. Since we didn't really know where the others were there wasn't anything we could do."

Mr Fassbender, who suffered scratches, returned to Timaru on February 22, along with Mr Hooper. However, Mr Anderson was admitted to Christchurch Hospital.

"It is hard to believe it's two years. It doesn't seem that long ago," Mr Fassbender said, of the ordeal.

Despite him being only slightly injured, the earthquake has had a lasting effect on him.

"It didn't make me give up the job, but I haven't been back to Christchurch for work."

He said although there was plenty of work for the team in Christchurch, it was not something he felt comfortable doing.

"The buildings are damaged to some extent, but after what happened in Durham St I'm not keen to go into another damaged building up in Christchurch."

Mr Fassbender had been working for the company for only a year when the earthquake struck. He moved to Timaru after completing an apprenticeship as a pipe organ builder in Germany.

The Timaru Herald