Emergency services tend to victims. Photo / James Gunn
Emergency services tend to victims. Photo / James Gunn

17 hurt, eight seriously in platform collapses at NZ concert

WITNESSES have told of broken limbs, hysteria and heroism as a balcony collapsed at a Dunedin concert last night, injuring 17 people.

The accident happened when about 1500 students and party-goers crammed into a small outdoor area to watch local band Six60, who were playing a gig near their old flat at 660 Castle St in the university precinct.

Police and Campus Watch staff were trying to clear people, who were standing on roofs and balconies for a better view, when one of the balconies collapsed.

People fell about 3m to the ground and decking landed on others in the courtyard.

Moments after the incident, bystanders desperately tried to prop up the fallen balcony to free the injured revellers trapped beneath.

A St John ambulance spokesman said eight people were taken to Dunedin Hospital by ambulance with a range of serious injuries, including head wounds and fractures.

Other patients were taken to hospital with minor to moderate injuries.

A fifth-year student described the moment the balcony came down.

"There were probably 15 to 20 people up there on the balcony. They were just having a good time and all of a sudden it collapsed," he said. "It landed on about 10 to 12 people."

The student said he looked on in horror as the balcony came down.

"It was like a big crack and then everyone winced ... It's one of those things that you never want to see."

He said the crowd's actions in the aftermath were admirable.

"The students were helping the ambulance staff. There were a couple of cars in the way and 15 to 20 guys just lifted the cars [and] moved them out of the way so the ambulance could get in.

"It was horrific ... there were unconscious people under the balcony ... I saw limbs underneath."

The band kept playing, he said. "It happened on the far left [of where they were performing]. They didn't realise. As soon as they did realise, they cut the music and everyone was out of there."

A neighbour of the house where the balcony collapsed said many people were jumping on the structure - which was bolted to the house, but had no support beneath.

"I heard a giant crash. I looked out and people were on the ground. Legs were broken. There was shock and hysteria - a lot of people were drunk.

"People were walking down the street covered in blood. There were big manly guys in tears. We were trying to comfort people and give them water - everyone was in shock."

She said despite the collapse, people on other balconies at identical units continued jumping, while others remained beneath the structures. She said more people flocked to the site to see what the commotion was about.

Another witness told the Herald he saw people leaving the scene bleeding from the head and feet.

He said the gig was at 598 Castle St. Until this year the band held the gig at their old flat at No 660, but they moved it for space reasons.

Freelance photographer Riley Baker, of Dunedin, was only a few metres from the balcony and saw it collapse last night. He first heard a "crack'' like a tree falling, and then "a yell'' as it went down.

He had noticed a "lean'' on about three of the balconies before the incident, and police had made attempts to clear them.

After the collapse, hundreds of people kept partying as if "nothing happened'', despite being in close proximity to the incident.

Otago Daily Times photographer Gregor Richardson said he was near the main stage, and heard a "moan go through the crowd". He jumped up on the stage and saw the balcony dangling and people trying to pull the structure off others.

"The bulk of the crowd were oblivious to the fact there had been a major incident.

"The band asked if people were okay, and they got the thumbs-up, so kept playing."

Band members instructed everyone still on balconies to get off.

Police and security staff are understood to have instructed Six60 to continue playing so emergency services staff would not be hampered when tending to the injured.

Some people continued to party while others, including friends of the victims, stood outside the venue in shock as they watched people being loaded into emergency services vehicles on stretchers. A temporary space to care for some of the injured was set up at the back of the address in Cumberland St.

Before the show, Six60 bassist Chris Mac said the band decided to play in the courtyard of 598 Castle St because it was not possible to play at number 660 due to the number of people expected to attend.

"We actually hadn't seen the [new] area before we turned up this afternoon," Mr Mac said.

Six60 tweeted a message shortly after the collapse: "Very upset that people were hurt tonight. Massive thanks to the local police and security who were working with us to help keep people safe."

Before the collapse, Otago University campus police officer Senior Constable John Woodhouse said police were present to keep students safe.

"It's just a matter of keeping them off the roofs and keeping them safe."

He and and five other officers tried to clear balconies about 6pm.

The gig came after Otago University's Orientation Week - widely known for being big and boisterous.

The week sees couches being burned and hundreds of students turning out for booze-filled parties.

Last week police arrested up to 13 people in Dunedin when student parties got out of control.

A University of Otago spokeswoman said the concert was not sanctioned by the university and was not on university grounds.

"The first that university staff heard of this surprise concert was via social media.

"This was not a university or official event of any sort."

However, once the university confirmed late this afternoon that the event was to take place at a private property in North Dunedin, its own security staff, Campus Watch, attended along with the police as a precaution and fortunately were present to help out with first aid to the injured immediately after the balcony collapsed.

"University of Otago vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne visited the scene last night and gave her full support to affected students and families.

"She is deeply concerned about the events of tonight and will be seeking as much information as possible in coming days," the spokeswoman said.

Students provided "valuable assistance" at the scene.

"Our thoughts and deepest concerns are with the students, their families and friends at this time," she said.

Otago University Students' Association president Laura Harris said the organisation was "saddened" by the news of the collapse and would focus on supporting students affected.

Dunedin Hospital had responded "well" to the collapse, the Southern District Health Board said in a statement. The hospital activated its emergency operations centre to deal with the incident.

WorkSafe New Zealand would be attending the scene.

- Additional reporting Otago Daily Times

- NZ Herald

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