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USAR workers sent back to CTV building after complaints

Tuesday 4 Dec 2012 6:57 p.m.

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An inquest in Christchurch has been told Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) workers were sent back to the CTV building after dismayed foreign diplomats in Wellington complained to the Government.

The evidence emerged at the coronial inquiry into the deaths of eight people who survived the building's collapse but died soon after.

The day after the February 22 quake, rescuers gave up all hope of finding any more survivors in the collapsed CTV building and pulled back. But just three hours later they were sent back in on orders from Wellington.

Firefighter Bryce Coneybeer was involved.

“I was informed there had been backlash to the decision in Wellington and at a couple of embassies who had voiced their concern at this decision. I assume that the embassies had learned of the decision through media coverage.”

Mr Coneybeer's evidence is in stark contrast to his boss, USAR head Jim Stuart Black, who had earlier testified there were no politicians involved.

“My recollection is there is political pressure because people abroad are watching the CTV site be vacated,” Mr Coneybeer says.

Earlier in the day, one of Mr Coneybeer's staff members, Ian Penn, was asked exactly when his crew began tunnelling into the rubble.

Mr Penn showed a hint of the frustration many USAR volunteers have felt under intense questioning during the inquest.

“I know that we were at the site at approximately 12:30am to one in the morning. Are you stating that we have done literally nothing for the next to four to five hours?”

The inquest continues this week.

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