Inquest hears evidence on language school deaths

8:10 pm on 30 August 2011

An inquest has been told harrowing details of how 64 international language students died in the Christchurch earthquake.

The inquest being held all week is looking into the deaths of 144 victims of the 6.3-magnitude quake on 22 February.

The students from Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan were studying at the Kings Education language school housed in the Canterbury Television (CTV) building in the central city when it collapsed.

Detective Inspector Paul Kench read through the details of each death on Tuesday, including post-mortem results which indicate all the victims suffered serious trauma.

The cause of death for 11 victims was smoke inhalation, fire injuries and incineration - meaning they survived the building's collapse but were killed in the ensuing fire that engulfed the site.

A number of other people died from massive crush injuries, while for another 11 victims the post-mortem could not determine the cause of death.

Representatives from two embassies attended the inquest on Tuesday.

On Monday, evidence dealt with the deaths of Canterbury Television workers and staff of the language school.

The inquest was told some school staff felt under pressure to return to the building following the 7.1-magnitude quake on 4 September last year, despite concerns about its safety.

However, Kings Education director John Ryder says he was given clearance by the building owners that it was safe to occupy after that quake.

Mr Ryder says it was the landlord's obligation to advise the company whether the building was safe and no-one returned to it until it had been given a green sticker.

He says the building managers quickly had engineers in and he received an email on 8 September that said the structural integrity of the building was good.

"It's a huge responsibility and you say to yourself, 'What more could you have done' - but we didn't own the building and we weren't the engineers. We were just tenants like the Canterbury TV people were just tenants, so I'm not quite sure what more we could have done."

Rescue effort examined

Coroner George Matenga says he will look into the contribution the rescue effort may have made to some fatalities.

Mr Matenga said some of the inquests have been adjourned as there are matters he needs to investigate further once the Royal Commission into the collapse of buildings has been completed.

"One of those issues is ... having a look at the contribution that the rescue effort may have made in the death of one or two of these people."

Later this week, the inquest will hear evidence about 18 people who were killed in the PGC building, and 41 people who died elsewhere in the city.