Quake victim's husband wants rescue effort probe

10:43 pm on 6 March 2012

Five victims of the February earthquake died as a result of inaction and then inept or inadequate search and rescue efforts, a lawyer claims.

The widower of one of the women who died is urging the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission to also look into the rescue operations, which it had not planned to do.

Dr Tamara Cvetanova was trapped with four others in a pocket in the rubble of the CTV building after the quake on 22 February. She spoke by cellphone to her husband and rescue services intermittently over the next 12 hours up until she and the others died.

Her husband, Srecko Cvetanov, is calling for an independent inquiry, whether it is done by the Royal Commission or another party.

On Tuesday, Mr Cvetanov's lawyer Nigel Hampton, QC, told the commission he wanted a public inquiry into the search operation so lessons could be learned from his wife's death.

Mr Hampton said that, although searchers acted with the finest intentions, their actions should be investigated.

But a lawyer assisting the commission Stephen Mills, QC, said while there was sympathy for Mr Cvetanov's situation, the terms of reference barred the commission from investigating the rescue effort.

The commission will deliver a written decision, but Mr Hampton said he hoped the Government would step in and revise the terms of reference to make it easier.

Mr Cvetanov said he did not want to blame any individual, but believed rescue efforts could be better organised in the future. "My view is that the rescue efforts could be organised in a much better way and saved more lives that night."

Nigel Hampton told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Tuesday if the Royal Commission will not look into the matter, he is determined to push his client's case at the ongoing coroner's inquiry.

"If we are turned down and if the Government will not set up what we say should be an independent inquiry, and if we are forced back to to coroner's inquiry, then the evidence that we have will be produced in that forum.

"It will be in the public view at some stage - make no mistake about that."

The investigation should look at all of those involved in the rescue - not just the Fire Service, Mr Hampton said.

Fire Service defends efforts

The Fire Service insisted on Tuesday that nothing more could have been done to save the five women in the CTV building on 22 February last year.

National commander Paul Baxter told Checkpoint that crews put their lives at risk that day to reach all of those who were in a position to be rescued.

The Fire Service had already provided evidence to the Royal Commission regarding its response to the quake, he said.