Indonesia October 2009


45 kilometres (28 mi) west-northwest
of Padang, Sumatra

Magnitude & Depth

7.6M & 87 kilometres (54 mi)

Team Deployment

10 member rescue team

An offer of assistance was put into both the British Embassy in Jakarta and the Indonesian Embassy in the UK within hours of the earthquake occurring. This offer was accepted and a 10 man team were immediately placed on standby.


2nd October

The team departed from Heathrow on a scheduled Malaysia Airlines flight (MH033) leaving at midday. Our route would take us to Jakarta via Kuala Lumpur, with an onward flight to the disaster area of Padang.

3rd October – Arrival into Jakarta airport at 11:45 local time (GMT +6hrs).

The Visa process was cleared quickly and arrangements began for the onward flight to Padang.

At this point we were joined by two Canadian rescue workers from CIRO who would remain with us for the rest of the mission.

A specific aid flight had been arranged departing Jakarta 19:00 which was delayed due to operational problems.

We eventually departed Jakarta airport at 20:53 in the company of a French firefighter rescue team, an Indonesian SAR team and SARAID from the UK.

At 22:30 we finally arrived at Padang airport. Once off the aircraft we located the United Nations reception area and logged in. I was given a quick briefing. A team leaders meeting was currently taking place in the On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) which had been set up in the Governor’s House. At 23:05 myself and the deputy team leader headed to the OSOCC in order to have a briefing for deployment.

On the journey to the Governor’s House it was noticeable on the way into the city that the damage didn’t seem to be as bad as we had heard in the media. There was damage but I would guess that the buildings were in their hundreds rather than thousands.

4th October

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.

Team Leader, Ray Gray reports;

At 14:20 I and the deputy team leader went across to brief the Swiss team leader on the searches that had been completed. Once he had taken our report he advised us to stand down pending the team leaders meeting at 16:00 at the Governor’s House.

At 15:30 I and the deputy team leader, accompanied by three team members, attended the OSOCC meeting at 16:00. The following details were given by the UN search and rescue coordinator.

There are currently 22 teams with over 600 rescue personnel and 70 dogs now working in the disaster area.
Following reports from the various teams working in the city area it has been agreed with the Swiss (who are coordinating the city sector) that the search and rescue phase had now concluded.
The villages to the north of the city were still being assessed by the French team and it was believed that their work would be concluded that evening.
Work to the east of the city had also been concluded but there were still parts to the South that were not yet finished.
It was noted that no survivors had been found from any of the search sectors for the last 3 days.
A request was made for teams to assist the Singapore SAR team who were coordinating search teams in the south area. IRC was one of 5 teams that offered (following acceptance of that offer a briefing took place at 17:30).
All teams were informed that the availability of fresh drinking water was becoming a serious concern. OSOCC coordinators asked if any team had the capability to provide water treatment facilities and if they had could they identify that to the OSOCC team. I offered the use of the arctic clear filtration system which was duly noted.
The 17:30 briefing with the Singapore SAR team for the south assessments outlined they would concentrate on 3 areas which were:

1. Reporting on major collapses and building surveys
2. Area searches in relation to state of roadways, local hostility and power to premises
3. Humanitarian needs

We were allocated area 1 and following assistance from the UN, a driver and vehicle would arrive at IRC camp at 04:45 the following day. Just prior to returning to base camp, the weather had changed as a tropical storm hit the area. As we had travelled in the back of an open truck earlier to the meeting, I thought it wise to try and sit the storm out and remain at OSOCC. I advised base camp of this and we made ourselves as comfortable as we could. All of the team managed to get some rest.

At 20:30 the rain seemed to ease slightly and with the assistance of some tarpaulins for shelter, we returned to base camp, arriving back at 21:30. Following a brief discussion, a team was picked for the following days work. A security watch was established and the rest of the team were stood down.
5th October
At 04:00 I was woken by the UN Search and Rescue Coordinator and advised that an urgent OSOCC meeting had been arranged at the OSOCC Command Centre. He also advised that the previous work allocation had now been cancelled. We were told that the search and rescue phase may well come to an end and we may want to bring forward our exit plans.

I and the deputy team leader arrived for the team leaders meeting at 09:00, the briefing was given by the lead person for OSOCC, who arrived an hour late due to an overrunning meeting with the Governor regarding the current situation.

The briefing stated that, with the Governors agreement, it was felt that the local USAR teams could now deal with the remaining tasks needing to be complete. It was also agreed that international assistance in search and rescue is now no longer required and at this point the international SAR work is now being closed.

Relief activities are to continue, the French team are to remain along with EMERCON (Russian Air Mobile) to begin work on rebuilding of schools and hospitals and the provision of medical assistance respectively. All teams were thanked for their help and co-operation and requests were made for paperwork to be completed and returned to the UN.

Plans for exit strategies from individual teams were to be returned to the UN so that co-ordination for flights and transport could be arranged. We returned to base at 10:30 and briefed the team. Due to persistent rain there was a slight delay in breaking camp. We packed up, loaded the lorry and arrived at Padang airport at 12:15 to await our onward flight at 18:00. The flight was later postponed to 22:00.

Due to various delays we eventually departed 22:15 and arrived at Jakarta International Airport at 23:40. At this point the two members of the Canadian CIRO team left us to continue their journey home.
6th October
A hotel in Jakarta had been booked by the team in the UK and after collecting our kit, arrived at 01:30 to a long awaited shower and rest.

At 09:30 the team met for breakfast and were briefed on arrangements for return travel to the UK. We would be leaving the Hotel at 01:00 tomorrow morning and therefore had a free day in Jakarta were we caught up with rest and completed our paperwork for the mission.
7th October
Our flight was Malaysia Airlines flight from Jakarta to Heathrow again via Kuala Lumpur which was due to depart Jakarta at 05:00. We agreed to meet at the Hotel reception at 00:30.

We loaded the bus at 00:45 and set off for the Airport at 01:00. At 03:00 we finally got through into departures were the airline had very kindly upgraded us for the return journey. Following a very comfortable flight, we landed at 08:00 in Kuala Lumpur, before continuing the journey with a 13 hour flight to Heathrow.

The UK team met us on arrival to assist with equipment and onward transport and following a group photo and goodbyes, members from Scottish region returned into the airport for a flight to Scotland, the Northern region continued by road with equipment and the Southern region returned home.

The team were formally stood down following the unloading of kit at National Stores in Easingwold, Yorkshire.

The Team


The IRC Team. Back row left to right. Anne Marie Macdonald, Willie McMartin, Tony Conner, Cameron McCreadie, Ray Gray, John Anderson, Ian McPhail. Front row left to right. Anita Prabhu, John Wilkinson, Helen Lambard.

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

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