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USAR and Air Force disagree over CTV blame

Friday 9 Nov 2012 5:43 p.m.

By Annabelle Tukia

Two New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams were five hours late arriving in Christchurch on the day of the February quake, the CTV inquest has heard.

An Air Force Boeing flew the teams from the North Island, and both USAR and the Air Force say the other was to blame for the lengthy time delay.

“I queried whether the 757 would be able to take all the equipment we required, being 15 tonnes of equipment - she replied there would be no problems with that,” says Auckland Fire Service area manager Murray Binning.

But there was a problem and Mr Binning admitted he became angry and frustrated when he learned that not all the USAR equipment could fit on the flight.

Flight Lieutenant Kylie Upton managed logistics at Whenuapai that day - she says the delay was because USAR staff were disorganised and their equipment turned up in stages.

“St John and USAR struggled to confirm the number of personnel needing to travel and the names of those personnel travelling,” says Ms Upton.

She says USAR staff became angry with the wait, and that one even breached Air Force safety regulations by sneaking on board.

“We found it to be a really emotionally charged environment which doesn't help the situation, so we tried to set the tone and keep it calm [but] we weren’t always met with that on the other side.”

Mr Binning told the court he rejected the suggestion his team was disorganised, and said they all arrived together at 5pm.

“The attitude of my team at Whenuapai was exemplary.”

The disagreements and confusion at Whenuapai, as well as an hour-and-a-half stopover at Ohakea meant the two USAR teams didn't arrive in Christchurch until 10 hours after the quake.

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