USAR head says CTV rescue not politically influenced

6:31 pm on 5 November 2012

The man who led the Urban Search and Rescue response to the CTV building collapse has rejected claims that political pressure forced the rescue effort to restart.

That effort is being scrutinised at an inquest investigating the deaths of eight people who survived the central Christchurch building's collapse in the earthquake on 22 February last year, but later died when they could not be reached by rescuers.

Rescuers at the CTV site were initially redeployed the morning after the quake because it was thought they were of more use elsewhere in the city, but returned two hours later.

Urban Search and Rescue's national manager for special operations, Jim Stuart-Black, told the hearing on Monday he ordered rescuers to return after being told that noises could be heard under the debris.

However, a statement from Bryce Coneybeer, a USAR team leader, said the search was restarted due to pressure from overseas embassies with trapped citizens.

Mr Stuart-Black told the inquest he had no knowledge of this evidence before reading Mr Coneybeer's statement and it would have been inappropriate for anyone to make the decision without consulting those on the ground.

He acknowledged that animosity between USAR and other parts of the Fire Service has always been there, but says it did not hamper the rescue effort.

Mr Stuart-Black said USAR is seen by some as elitist, but those feelings would not have impacted on the emergency response to the disaster. Since then, changes have been made to bring the groups together including making the uniforms more alike.