Philippines July 1990


Near the town of Rizal, Nueva Ecija, northeast of Cabanatuan City.

Magnitude & Depth

7.8M & 25.0 kilometers

Team Deployment

16 member rescue team


Monday 16th July 1990

IRC were put on alert after reports arrived about a 7.8 M earthquake in central Luzon Island in the Philippines. IRC put in an offer of help which was accepted. (All times stated are local).

DEPARTURE: 1830, Tuesday 17th July 1990.

Team assembly took place at Gatwick Airport where the flight was on hold for us. The team was complete upon the arrival of the Home Counties contingent with the bulk of the equipment. They were accompanied by the Corps Commander and members of the Home Counties region assisting with the equipment. On 18th July we landed at Manila at 2130.

Nomad Aircraft – Used to take the first section into Baguio City.

The team at Manila Airport – Loading the Nomad — Graham Payne, John Howman, Harry Leefe, Nigel Borrell and Willie McMartin

Baguio city Airport runway. This is why only small aircraft could land.

Bowling Alley. Dave Kemp. One female survivor was rescued from a house at the rear of this building. She was found trapped inside the bath where she had taken shelter.

General view in Baguio. Note how only some buildings are damaged.

Baguio Park Hotel before the earthquake. (Taken from a postcard.)

Baguio Park Hotel after the earthquake. Note how the roof from the building at the side has fallen over the rubble of the hotel.

Team working on the Baguio Park. John Holland and Willie McMartin.

Team working On the Baguio Park. Willie McMartin.

Team working on the Baguio Park. Willie McMartin.

Hyatt Hotel before the earthquake. (Taken from a postcard.)

Hyatt Hotel after the earthquake.

Inside one of the tunnels in the Hyatt Hotel.

Inside one of the tunnels in the Hyatt Hotel. Harry Leefe.

The team was immediately met by British Embassy staff. Good preparations had been made for our arrival. At the airport while the baggage was being unloaded, information was gathered from the Embassy personnel. They had been in touch with the Philippine Military authority co-ordinating the rescue operation, who had requested that we proceed to Baguio City – approximately 100 miles north. The Embassy’s plan was for us to rest up in their homes and a flight was arranged for us to Baguio City for 0600 the next day. It was clear at this stage that communications were still extremely poor and many areas remained completely unaccounted for.

Eager to get to work as soon as possible and to make the first 48 hours count, we asked if a team could be deployed closer than Baguio City. Very much to their credit, acting on their own initiative, they agreed to transport a team in an Embassy vehicle to the town of Cabanatuan virtually immediately.
First, we travelled by bus to the Embassy residence. At the residence equipment was sorted out to allow deployment of the first team (Team A). With an Embassy official and driver the 4-man team left for Cabanatuan at 0015, 19th July. The plan was for them to work the site and then meet up with us in Baguio City on the following evening.

Moving the main team

We returned to Manila airport for the 0600 airlift – two problems materialised: firstly, Baguio airport had been damaged and was not yet open to large aircraft and secondly, our equipment was too heavy for the light aircraft provided for us. It was decided to split the remaining IRC members into two groups. Team B – a rescue section of seven men plus the team co-ordinator – would fly immediately by light aircraft to Baguio with location equipment and limited supplies.


Chemical factory in Baguio City. (Still burning.) The fumes would pose a constant threat to health as they were believed to be toxic. All the team became aware of wind direction when near to the factory.


Team C (five men) would follow up as soon as possible on a Hercules C150 with the bulk of the equipment.
At 0930 from Manila airport a telephone call was made to the British Embassy and a message from Team A was received. Their work at Cabanatuan was nearly completed and they were making their move to Baguio.
A delay for Team C developed. It gradually became clear that the state of Baguio airport was a problem for the Hercules and the Philippine air force. Assessments were being carried out to decide if a large aircraft landing at Baguio would be safe. At about 1100 two American evangelists approached us; Dirk Wood and Steve Sone of the ‘Arise and Shine Evangelist Association’ accompanied by a Filipino colleague called Vincent.

Their desire to help and their ability to speak persuasively and in the correct manner to get a result were instantly recognisable. With their help, we started to make progress in getting Team C mobile. The Evangelists wanted to join us in the travel to Baguio and to help us in any way they could. I was cautious and unsure as to how acceptable they were to the Philippine authorities. My concerns were proved wrong and these three men worked tirelessly for us during the days to come and achieved action and results that would have been a struggle to us. Yet again, an IRC team had found or been found by local interpreters/assistants of the highest calibre.

Following pressure from Dirk and an emergency call by him to the American Embassy, the Hercules took off at 1215 for La Union. He had arranged for U.S. helicopters to net us at La Union. However, in flight the plan was changed and it was decided to risk landing at Baguio.
We got down! At Baguio airport we were met by U.S. Marines who were aware of the whereabouts of Team B. In pouring rain, we travelled by lorry into the City centre and at 1500 met up with Team B.

It had been arranged for us to be billeted at the Camp John Hay – an American rest and recuperation centre. Base camp was set up here and was about ten minutes’ drive from the City centre areas of collapse. Satcoms were soon established with IRC H.Q.
At 1725 Team A met up with us. For most of that day we had been three separate groups in three separate towns. It was good to be back together again, but this division of resources and flexibility was necessary, effective and worked well.


The nature of the work carried out by Teams A and B was principally that of searching inside collapsed buildings, as always made more hazardous by frequent aftershocks. There was high loss of life.
On their way to Baguio, Team A had come across a town called La Trinidad close to the suburbs of the city. The need for a full reconnaissance of this area was recognised and, after a short rest, Team A returned to this district.
As the evening progressed we began to consolidate our position and gather more information. The work on the city centre sites drew to a close at 2300. As expected, most of us were by then feeling exhausted and some hours’ rest was necessary. With Team A out overnight at La Trinidad and the remainder resting, Harry Leefe and I investigated a site called the ‘Hyatt Terrace Hotel’. Information indicated that the Japanese FDR team were already on site, but would welcome our presence.

The Hyatt Terrace Hotel:

At 2330 we arrived on the site, which was well illuminated, and work in progress. There was no co-ordination/control point at the hotel, but we were immediately approached by a team of Filipino miners asking for our help, and were briefed on their position. The building was initially searched by the local fire brigade who had moved on; American dog teams, who had moved on and, over the last 24 hours, by a Japanese team – who were still there. Throughout this time the miners, who had walked considerable distances to Baguio, had been tunnelling into the building, but had now reached a position where they required location expertise and equipment which they themselves lacked.

Inspection of the tunnels revealed impressive work, particularly the shoring. We readily agreed to help and to be on site at 0600, by which time the miners anticipated further progress to have been made in preparation for the use of our locating equipment.

Friday 20th July 1990

The team plan had now become twofold: Team A would establish the situation and work required away from Baguio. Team B would concentrate on the Hyatt Hotel.

Within hours at the Hyatt, Team B made very positive sound locations – targets for the miners to tunnel towards. It was evident that co-ordination of effort would be necessary.

An example of the emotional stress imposed by the site:

On our arrival, the mother of a young girl who was trapped in the hotel approached us. On the previous day the girl had cried out in response to the mother’s shouts.

The mother was visibly uplifted by our arrival and grateful for our help despite our caution about the successful recovery of her daughter. Like others with relatives or friends missing in the building (possibly 50), the mother was camping on site in her car. She decided to park her car outside the entrance to our forward camp so that she could monitor events – this being a constant reminder of the human cost of the disaster. Sadly on Sunday her daughter’s dead body was recovered.

Rescue Team Meeting: Friday 1400.

This was arranged by the Philippine military and chaired by the Officer-in-Charge – Brigadier General Enrile – a meeting for all team leaders/co-ordinators was held. This included local ambulance, several local miners’ rescue teams, Japanese FDR, USAF, Dade County Fire Service and IRC. The initial impression was that the Philippine authorities were prepared to accept that the rescue stage was over but, with our positive soundings at the Hyatt, we encouraged that further rescue work would be allowed and it was decided that rescue work should continue for a further 48 hours.

On return to the Hyatt we established a site co-ordination centre run by a number of individuals including the manager and some staff of the hotel – thus giving local people an important role to play. In all discussions the local authorities and civilians looked to us for a positive lead and obviously valued our advice. Clearly, we were recognised as a professional body – to be trusted and regarded as friends. The relationship developed with the local people should not be underestimated. A great deal was achieved by IRC personnel behaving in a professional manner, with respect for the locals and with good humour.

Meeting – 1400 Sunday 22nd July 1990

The Philippine authorities called a team leaders meeting at the Governor’s mansion to assess the situation; sadly, we could report no positive sound locations at the Hyatt for approximately 24 hours. Our other team had not yet returned from further afield, so their report was not available to us.
We confirmed our willingness to continue our rescue work at any location or in any area. The Hyatt appeared to have been the only site at which work had actively continued over the weekend. The Brigadier General stated that it would be expecting too much of foreign teams to continue and that their efforts should now be concluded. However, he instructed the local teams to continue tunnelling and body recovery at the Hyatt. On the question of redeployment, he would let us know by 2000.
During the late afternoon on Sunday, the Evangelists held a service at the Hyatt for the benefit of the relatives and friends still remaining on site, waiting for the rescue/recovery of their loved ones. To begin with, the Brigadier General officially announced the withdrawal of the foreign teams and the continued work by local teams. The service then continued in pouring rain with the IRC personnel standing alongside those from other rescue teams and the relatives/friends of the victims – an emotionally charged experience for all.

Sunday 22nd July 1990

There were only two direct flights from Manila to London – Monday and Wednesday nights. Provisional arrangements are therefore put in hand to be flown by the USAF to Manila late on Monday morning. Confirmation was received on the Sunday evening that we would not be required for redeployment.

Monday 23rd July 1990

The team which had been working away from Baguio had revealed inhabited areas which were at risk from landslide, due to the earthquake. Their information was that another town required a visit on Monday due to a similar hazard. The team were convinced of the reality of the danger and the need for further work so a 2-man reconnaissance team set out at breakfast time to investigate the outstanding high hazard area.

The remaining team prepared for the move to Manila – which was now confirmed to be late afternoon. During the course of the morning, the strongest of many aftershocks (5.5) was felt. Aware that the local Filipino Miners teams were working inside the Hyatt, IRC members spontaneously returned to that site to check on their safety. All was well

The reconnaissance team returned to base in time for the withdrawal. All work had been completed. The usual, but as always heartfelt, good-byes were exchanged and we left Baguio at lunchtime.

The IRC team arrived at Gatwick at breakfast time on Tuesday 24th July 1990.

The Team

Guy McCurley Team Leader
William McMartin
Henry Blackley
Hugh McMillan
Harry Leefe
Nigel Borrell
Mark Aldridge
David Maddock
The Team

John Howman
Michael White
Graham Payne
David Kemp
Bryan Kyrby
John Holland
David Sleeman
Susan Shirley


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