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The rescue of two maintenance workers trapped in a Building Maintenance Unit (BMU) 200 metres up the sixth highest building in the world, Auckland's Sky Tower, began with an emergency call to the New Zealand Fire Service Auckland at 16:57 hrs on Thursday, September 18, 1997.

A crew change was made to ensure that fully qualified personnel crewed City Pump Rescue 207. With all appropriate equipment City 207 crewed by SO Phil Beech, SFF Craig Merz, SFF Leon Ford and SFF Dave Douglas responded.

Looking down the TowerPhoto: Taken during a training session, looking down the Sky Tower. The workers were trapped just below the section the team is standing on in the photo.



Three minutes later 207 arrived at the base of the Tower, the crew made access to the main observation deck, level 51, via lift #4 with the equipment necessary to carry out a rescue. The trapped workers were visible through the windows of this level and contact was made by the Brigade with them.

Consultation was carried out with management and they appraised us as to what action had been taken prior to our arrival and what was in progress. Incident control was, at this stage, handed to the Fire Service.

A conference was held between the Fire Service and Sky Tower Management, Sky Tower Staff, Height Busters (the work contractors) and glaziers. The Fire Service's plan was outlined to the above and it was agreed that we would proceed with a vertical rescue. This plan was met with reluctance due to the media frenzy happening below. The necessary equipment for this rescue was prepared and donned by the first rescuer Leon Ford.

Personal Equipment: - ¨

*   6 x Carabiners ¨

*   1 x 250 metre

*   11mm static life rescue line

*   1 x Controlled Rate Descender (CRD) ¨

*   1 x Personal Adjustment Sling (PA Sling) ¨

*   1 x Haul Track (Mini-Pulley System) ¨

*   1 x Rescue Strop

*   2 x Prussic Cords ¨

*   2 x Anchor Slings ¨

*   15m Tag Line (supplied by Sky City rigger)

Two anchor points were established and edge protection put in place. With the assistance of Craig Merz and Dave Douglas, Leon descended over the edge of the walking gantry and committed himself onto a 250-metre rescue line and a Fallright CRD. He descended approximately 3 metres, positioning himself level with the BMU.

At this point he was approximately 3 metres out from the BMU. The first option to bridge the gap using a prussic cord was unsuccessful, however, from this position he was able to throw a tag line to the workers in the BMU which they secured to an anchor point. He then haul-tracked himself into the BMU.

On gaining access to the BMU he introduced himself to the two workmen, assessed the situation, established an anchor point for a strop rescue and attached the rescue line. He also reset the anchor point of the tag line used to bridge the gap.

With workman, Moe's assistance he paid out the remaining rescue line which hung in a loop from the anchor point in the BMU back to Leon's harness. This was carried out for the purpose of preventing the full line bag from becoming a hindrance in such a confined space. Leon re rigged the rescue strop and PA sling, then proceeded to carry out a strop rescue. Approximately fourteen minutes after descent began Leon and Moe touched down outside the main entry doors to the Sky City Casino.

After removing Moe from the rescue strop Leon proceeded back to the restaurant level with the haul track where Craig Merz was ready to proceed with the second rescue. With the assistance of Dave Douglas and Phil Beech, Craig descended over the edge of the walking gantry in the same manner.

He descended approximately 3 metres positioning himself opposite the BMU. The second workman, Murray, threw out the tag line, which was used by Craig to haul track into the BMU. Upon entering the BMU Craig re-rigged the CRD to the descent line which had previously been established by Leon Ford and proceeded to carry out a strop rescue.

Exactly 13 minutes and 48 seconds later Craig and Murray touched down outside the main entry doors to the Sky City Casino. Moe and Murray no worse for their ordeal were whisked away from the media by Sky City staff after being attended to by Ambulance personnel.

Craig Merz and Leon Ford then spoke to the media with reference to the rescue.


The technique described as 'haul-tracking' is a mini pulley system using 6 to 8mm cord on 1" triple bank pulleys. Having reached the BMU a second anchor was established using a bight in the main rescue rope.

During descent the single 11mm rope was deployed from a bag, a necessity in terms of maintaining a constant rate of descent and in being able to physically manage such a large amount of rope.

The techniques employed for the rescue of the two workmen on the Sky Tower is simply known as a strop rescue. This involves placing a Troll RS6 (or in this case a Fallright Rescue Strop) around the casualty who descends sat sideways on to the rescuer above the rescuers legs.

The Rescue Strop is a two-part webbing 'harness'. The top part is a padded helicopter style strap which is passed around the chest, under the casualty's arms and the lower section is an endless loop with a clip which passes between the casualty's legs and connects to the common hard point. This provides support and determines the sitting angle. Because of the underslung location of the BMU and the difficulty of negotiating the intervening walking gantry and fences a straight drop was the simplest option albeit quite a long descent.


The special nature of this structure presented the following conditions, which required consideration: -

*   ¨Weather conditions.

*   ¨Manoeuvring off the catwalk.

*   ¨Traversing 3 metre overhang to BMU.

*   ¨Loading of BMU. ¨

*   Anchor points from BMU. ¨

*   Confined space of BMU. ¨

*   Radio Frequency fields from lower levels. ¨

*   Lightening rods. ¨

*   Length and speed of descent. ¨

*   Weight of patient. ¨

*   Heat build up on descender due to friction.


Fallright: -

*   ¨Ascending Slings ¨

*   250 metre long, 11 mm ( Static Life Rescue Line AS 4142.3 ¨

*   Rescue Sit Harnesses ¨

*   Rescue Strops ¨

*   Haul Track ¨

*   Snake Eye Anchor Slings ¨

*   Controlled Rate Descenders

Omega: - ¨

*   40 kN Steel Carabiners


As the incident was unfolding the rescue crew became aware of the media presence and how this story was gaining national and international press. A conscious decision was made by team members to avoid alienation of their co-workers.

Media requests for radio and television interviews started as soon as the rescue was completed. These were managed by the team to ensure both the team members and the service as a whole received acknowledgment.

One request for a television interview was avoided because we felt that a re enactment to dramatize both the interviewer and a single interviewee would only belittle the rescue. Judging by the feedback from co-workers on a national scale the strategy employed has proven to be the right one and has continued to the point of the incident being documented and copyrighted to further ensure that a true and correct record has and will be maintained.



An incident of this nature that required a combination of techniques also demanded the highest level of training from the rescuers.The maintenance of skills to this level can only be achieved by tasking a limited number of people with this capability.


As this concept is evolving and staff are gaining competence, there is an obvious need and responsibility for the Instructors to be present at incidents of this nature, to oversee and ensure Health and Safety requirements are met. This would be easily facilitated by the use of a pager call back system.


*   The current Fire Service portable UHF radio communications were not up to standard for this incident for the following reasons: - ¨

*   The entire crew did not have radios and when working solely or in small groups communications were lost with the rest of the team. ¨

*   Their bulky size and the need to operate manually made it impossible to receive or transmit communications whilst carrying out involved rescue techniques. ¨

*   The reinforced concrete structure led to intermittent break down of communications. ¨

*   As they are not designed to cover a very small range their bulky size makes them impractical for use where there is high risk of them being dropped or falling from your uniform.

It is our recommendation that small voice activated communications be purchased for use at High Angle Rescue incidents.


The minimum response to any incident involving High Angle Rescue should be one pump, one rescue tender: - ¨

*   Those personnel not trained in High Angle Rescue can be tasked with assisting the rescue crew as required. ¨

*   The requirement for rescue tender is to have any cutting / engineering equipment on hand that may be required by the rescue crew.


Craig Merz, Leon Ford and Matt Camplin are acknowledged for having driven the High Angle Rescue project from its inception.

Fallright International Pty Ltd. Dave Woodman, Ron Fosson and G.N. McCormack provided training, equipment and ongoing assistance.

New Zealand Safety. Clive Marple provided access to Fallright International Pty Ltd and continued support.

Sky City Management. Evan Davies, Bryce Morrin and Nick Beale provided funding for all equipment and access to the Sky Tower for training purposes.

Sky City Management. Bryce Morrin and Chris French. For having the confidence to pass control of the rescue incident to the Fire Service.

Sky Tower Staff. Thomas Croft for his valuable assistance during the rescue.

District Chief Fire Officer. Brian Edwards for his support from the inception of the project

Auckland Area Training Manager. Brent Bell for his support as training manager.

Senior Firefighter Greg Fletcher who gave up his position on the first responding appliance to enable a line rescue qualified Firefighter to respond to the incident.

Thanks to Dave Douglas, Craig, Leon and the rest of the New Zealand Fire Service High Angle Rescue Team for this report and congratulations on completing the rescue without a hitch. Proof, if it was needed, that without such specialist teams, this sort of high profile rescue, infrequent though they may be, would be extremely difficult to resolve. Could the statutory rescue service in your area have dealt with this incident?

More information on the rescue, equipment and techniques used is available by contacting Craig Merz on Mobile phone 025 759 194. or Email

First published in the Technical Rescue Magazine United Kingdom No. 16 Winter 1997/98. Copyright © 1998 ATRO Ltd, New Zealand.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means with out the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form or binding, or cover other than that in which it is published and with out a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Other Articles about the Team: History of the High Angle Rescue Team