Mountaineer saved 14 from quake-hit NZ tower | world | Hindustan Times
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Mountaineer saved 14 from quake-hit NZ tower

world Updated: Feb 26, 2011 14:29 IST

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A climbing enthusiast trapped in an office block wrecked during the New Zealand earthquake has told how he used his mountaineering skills to help 14 people abseil to safety before making his own escape.

John Haynes was on the sixth floor of the 17-storey Forsyth Barr tower in downtown Christchurch when the quake hit Tuesday, sending debris crashing through the building and leaving a gaping hole where the internal stairwell once stood.

"The guts of the building fell down 17 storeys. We just had a shell of a building," the 64-year-old government worker told the Christchurch Press.

Stranded in the darkness and fearing the structure would collapse or be engulfed by flames, Haynes racked his brains for a way to get out.

His training as a mountaineer kicked in as he examined emergency equipment, including ropes and a sledgehammer, installed in the building in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Haynes persuaded his terrified colleagues that the only way to escape was to abseil 20 metres (66 feet) down the face of the building to the top of a ground floor car park, where they would be able to make their way to safety.

They used the sledgehammer to smash a window, letting in "a great flood of light", and Haynes used two ropes to begin lowering people down in an perilous two-hour operation.

He wrapped the ropes around his body to ensure they did not slip through his fingers and sat on the office floor so the weight of those being lowered did not pull him out of the window, as aftershocks continued to rock the building.

"It's like you were in a war zone with the shells coming over as you're still trying to do your job," he said.

After the last of his colleagues reached safety, Haynes prepared for his own descent but by that time rescuers had spotted what was happening and sent a crane to get him out.

Haynes insisted he was not a hero, saying he simply felt "a real sense of satisfaction that I was able to look after those people and get them safely away".

"Their lives were in my hands, and that's a hell of a responsibility." he told the Press.

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake wreckage large parts of Christchurch's city centre and some outlying suburbs, leaving at least 145 dead with grave fears for another 200 missing.