On arrival at the Governor’s House we were briefed by the UN Search Coordinator who had been a friend of many years. His briefing consisted of the following:
2/3rds of the city had now been cleared but around 7 to 8 sites still needed searched
There was no need for heavy search & rescue operations but there still may be people trapped and there are still a number of people missing.
A large number (over 400) were thought to be buried under a landslide but were all assumed to be dead.
Sites in the east of the city and some to the south that had still not been searched along with a small number in the city centre.
Water was now a big issue with very little to drink.
We were reminded of the paperwork that needs to be done and that our progress reports needed to be in by 14:00 tomorrow and that a further team leaders meeting would take place at 16:00.
It was suggested that we set up base camp alongside the Swiss rescue team who were already operating at the international football stadium and work under their control. The Swiss were already working in the city centre and were covering the main area of damage.
We made contact with the rest of the team who were still at the airport, advised them of the plan and waited for them to pick us up at the Governors House. We set off for what would be our base camp for the next few days.
On arrival we established base camp on a thin piece of grass in the car park outside the stadium (this was the only land available) and the team were advised to rest whilst discussions took place with the Swiss co-coordinator and team leader.
The Swiss team leader advised us that there were 5 areas that had not yet been cleared. On the UN maps provided these were marked as site numbers 4, 6, 8, 20, 21. We agreed to commence searching at 05:30 deploying a team of 10 which included the 2 attached Canadians. The meeting concluded at 03:00 and we returned back to camp.
At around 04.30, 12 trucks and two coaches arrived in the area carrying the UK Fire Service team.
The team was ready to leave by 05:00 when our transport was due. Following problems with the planned transport, alternate arrangements were made quickly by hiring a truck that was suitable for the transportation of both kit and personnel with the team leaving base at 05:50 (two members remaining at base camp) and proceeded to the first work area.
STBA Prayoga, UN Site No. 4
This building was an English College consisting of 6 floors including garages on the lower floor. Following an initial survey the building collapse was described as a Pancake with partial leaning collapse with multiple voids, and a large amount of debris which had been moved by a mechanical digger leaving a large mound of debris close to the building.
I initially deployed a recce team who reported back very quickly and following a perimeter search, I split the team across the 3 units. One search team covering the right hand side of building, one search team cover the top & middle of building and one team to the left hand side of building
The remaining team members completing search patterns within the voids found at ground level.
It was stated in the UN worksheet that one person was reported missing and this was confirmed by the local people at the scene who also reported a second person missing in the building.
On completing the search, all the teams cleared the building and I took their reports.
I then asked our two Canadian colleagues to carry out a DELSER (sound location equipment) search across the upper floor of the building. No positive location was heard. I was however certain that there were two bodies in the building. These bodies were not removed but they were tagged and their position reported back to the United Nations OSOCC. Prior to this search, nine bodies had been removed from the site and two persons were rescued. One person was still unaccounted for. The team marked the building accordingly.
Sentral Pasar Raya, UN Site No. 21
Our second search was a large complex shopping centre running from the basement up to second floor levels and consisting of multiple shopping units with roller shutters and communal eating areas.
This building had suffered a partial collapse to the rear and all access to the upper levels was now in a very unstable condition. The basement had also flooded. There was strong security around this building with a large number of armed guards and a fence surrounding the entire site. There were also a large number of local people outside the perimeter fence.
After a brief recce I split the working section into three teams of three. One team being deployed to the basement, the other two teams deployed to right and left hand searches of the ground floor of the building in order to search the full length of the building and one person remaining outside. On starting the search all three teams made their way through the main entrance and it soon became apparent, following a risk assessment, that a search of the first floor would be difficult due to the instability of the stairways and escalators which would have been a danger to the team if deployed. Throughout the search we came across a large number of dressed mannequins which did impede the search as it gave the impression of having several casualties in one location. In the torchlight, fully dressed with a wig on and covered in dust they all look fairly real. There was also the chance that there was a real casualty in amongst them so we had to check through them.
We eventually reached the partial collapse at the end of the building. I and another team member progressed through the building until it became impossible to move any further due to the size of the tunnel (the ceiling had come down to hit the floor).
Both teams then retraced their steps to the front of the building and were later joined by the basement team who as part of their search had discovered the owner’s personal bag which seemed to have a large significance to the people outside.
During the search we identified 2 locations where we believed there to be bodies. One of these was on the ground floor on the right hand search two thirds of the way into the building, the second was between 2 compacted escalators. A further 20 bodies remained on the first floor where they were waiting to be extracted. The building was marked accordingly.
Following a brief break the team moved on to the Matahari Department Store which consisted of the local food market. Upon speaking to advisors at scene we were informed that the building had already been searched including by a dog team. Using this information a small recce team was deployed around the perimeter to check for access points and found that the basement floor of the building was sectioned into a general market area. Many of the local population had returned to this area and were in the process of tidying and repairing their premises. After ensuring the entire area was easily accessible the recce team returned to my location.
At this point I decided to return to base to exchange personnel. I stayed at base camp to rest. The Deputy Team Leader recorded the following searches;
We proceeded to location 6 which was the local government office. I and the section leader conducted an external recce where we spoke to a local official who confirmed that the building had been closed at the time of the earthquake. There had been no personnel in the building and all the staff had been accounted for.
I made the decision not to search the building due to the risk to the team. At this point the official took me and the section leader to location 20 where the ancient market had stood. He pointed out that there was up to a 100 people reported missing at this location. However, due to a large fire which happened after the earthquake and a decision by the UN advisor to allow excavators onto the site to start clearing rubble, I made the decision again not to search these buildings. I informed the team of this and we made our way to the location in order to gain experience of the risk assessment involved. Shortly afterwards the team returned to base for rest (the temperatures was in excess of 110 degrees).
A few minutes after returning to camp, one of the team noticed a young man running past the camp with what appeared to be an unconscious female casualty approx 16 yrs old. Several members of the team responded including the team medic whose help was accepted. The casualty was assessed and it was established that she had been riding a motorcycle and had been involved in a road traffic collision. A full assessment and normal c-spine immobilisation was given and a request was sent to the Swiss team for a doctor. The Swiss duly arrived and confirmed the diagnosis of head injury. A local ambulance arrived and she was taken to hospital.
Willie McMartin, Anne Marie Macdonald, Helen Lambard, Ray Gray, Ian McPhail, Cameron McCreadie, Anita Prabhu, Tony Conner, John Anderson, John Wilkinson
Ray Gray – Team Leader
To feature any part of our stories in your own publications, please contact email@example.com or call +44 (0) 1324 665 011