British firefighters have filmed the dramatic moment they pulled a police officer and a woman from the rubble of a building in Turkey – five days after the country was devastated by an earthquake.
The footage shows search and rescue specialists in Hatay, southern Turkey, rescuing the man and woman, who had been trapped under a collapsed multi-storey building for 120 hours.
The death toll from Monday’s disaster stood at more than 30,000 on Sunday, with a further 80,000 people injured.
Phil Irving, 46, from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, was part of the UK International Search and Rescue (UK-ISAR) team, deployed to Turkey through the UK Government’s foreign office – who undertook the painstaking extraction, which ended on Saturday with the two people being brought out alive.
The father-of-two said the battle to save them, and their determination to stay alive, “will stay with me”.
“These people were entombed in rubble and debris and we had to work around the clock to bring them out alive,” he said.
“It was Friday afternoon when we first discovered signs of life. We knew 100% that they were alive.
“We were hearing them tapping and shouting so we knew we were close to them, but reaching them was a major challenge.
“It was a catastrophic collapse and access was difficult.
“They were trapped in there for over five days and it will stay with me, their incredible capacity to keep going, hope and believe.”
He added that a successful rescue can be a “bitter-sweet moment”.
“I always find that it is a mixed emotion when we get someone out because if you rescue one person and they are reunited with a relative, generally speaking that person has left a loved one in the building, who has not been so lucky.
“It is generally a bitter-sweet moment.
“Of course, when we are successful in getting someone out it gives the team a boost, but I don’t think you ever have a rescue that is not moderately tarnished with the bigger reality that the survivor will have to deal with grief for the people that didn’t make it.”
The watch manager at Haverfordwest station has been a firefighter for almost 24 years and a volunteer with UK-ISAR for 17 years, and was part of the 2009 Indonesia and 2010 Haiti earthquake responses.
He said it “hurts my heart to see the devastation” caused to families and their homes.
“I stand back and I look at the people who have lost their homes and their families and my heart bleeds for them.
“Turkey didn’t deserve this. Human beings don’t deserve this.
“I was walking down the street the other day, there were helicopters above, constant sirens, shouting in the street, brazier fires burning, and it feels and looks like a war zone.
“The most difficult conversations we have are when the search dog doesn’t get a hit, there’s no audible noise or sign of life and then we have to move on.
“It is very difficult explaining the rationale to people frantically searching for their loved ones as to why we are moving on. You don’t want to extinguish all hope for people.
“I have to say this about the Turkish people, to a degree they have understood. Their compassion for us is remarkable.
“There was a lady sitting round a burning brazier next to a collapsed building.
“Potentially she had lost family, she had the clothes on her back and that was it.
“Yet she walked up to a female medic, touches her on the arm and offers her half of this six-inch cake that was all she had.
“For people that have absolutely nothing, suffering significant grief and trauma, to still have the capacity to show kindness like that makes me believe in humanity.”
As the death toll from Monday’s catastrophe surged past 30,000, Phil admitted his wife, Lianne; daughter Esmei, and eight-year-old son, Evan, are never far from his thoughts.
He said: “They are proud of what I am doing. My wife and daughter are mature enough to recognise the importance of this work and manage that information.
“Unfortunately, my boy is like my shadow so me being away has hit him quite hard, if I’m honest.
“He is clever but he just thinks about risk and he gets a bit emotional about it.”
“However, I am here to do a job and I have to manage those emotions to just stay focused to do whatever we need to do to save lives.”
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which brings together 15 leading UK aid charities, says its Turkey earthquake appeal has raised £52.8 million in two days – including £5 million in aid matching from the UK Government.
International development minister Andrew Mitchell told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday the situation is “bleak beyond belief” and suggested the death toll could reach 50,000.
Praising those who had supported the relief effort, he said in a statement: “It is thanks to the generosity and compassion of the British people that the DEC Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal has reached the extraordinary total of £52.8 million, which includes £5 million of match funding from the British taxpayer.
“This would not have been possible without the kindness and support of the British people. Thank you.”