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Watch: Welsh firefighter involved in dramatic rescue as pair are pulled from earthquake rubble

12 Feb 2023 5 minute read
Members of the UK International Search and Rescue (UKISAR) team in Hatay, Turkey, looking for survivors. Photo FCDO

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 afternoon, with a further 80,000 people injured.

Phil Irving, 46, from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, was part of the team to take part in the painstaking extraction, which ended on Saturday with the pair being brought out alive.

The dad-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 per cent 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.”

Watch manager

The watch manager at Haverfordwest station has been a firefighter for almost 24 years and a volunteer with UK International Search and Rescue (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 focussed to do whatever we need to do to save lives.”

Since Friday £1.9 million has been raised in Wales as the public rallies to support to support the millions of people affected by the devastating earthquakes that have hit Turkey and Syria.


The total raised by the DEC appeal at UK level figure is now £60.3m, including £5m in Aid Match from the UK government and a £300,000 donation from the Welsh Government.

DEC Chief Executive Saleh Saeed said: “The images we have all seen and heard from Turkey and Syria has shocked us all, and the desire to help is shining through.

“DEC charities are stepping up aid delivery, knowing they have the support of the British public to do all they can to help. We are all determined to do all we can to support those affected both in the short and longer term and it’s inspiring to have the backing of the British public.”

You can donate to support the DEC’s relief effort here……

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1 year ago

So proud to hear that men and women from the Mid & West Fire and Rescue service are helping to save lives at this tragic time in Turkey.

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