“Desperation” and being “completely trapped” led some Grenfell Tower victims to mistakenly believe they could be rescued by police helicopter, a report has found.
People stuck on the upper floors of the Kensington tower block begged call handlers for an air rescue, after seeing police helicopters flying nearby during the fire.
Unknown to those in the building, the helicopters sent by the National Police Air Service (NPAS) were not equipped for rescue, and rather were monitoring the scene for officers and other emergency responders on the ground.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has now said the way some handlers managed calls from those in the building was “unclear” but says residents were not told to move to another floor for rescue.
Nabil Choucair, who lost six relatives in the blaze, complained to the watchdog three years ago, saying that residents made their way up the block believing they would be saved and that the use of a helicopter so close to the high-rise could have made the flames worse.
The 80-page report released on Wednesday details some of the calls made from the tower on the night of the fire which cost 72 people their lives.
Shortly after 3am, Bassem Choukair was recorded in a 999 call asking: “Helicopter please, we are dying, dying!”
He told the handler “we can’t leave” and “there are 20 people in the flat.”
During the phone call, the operator responded: “We can’t rescue you with a helicopter, if you can’t stay in the flat any more you’re going to have to leave the flat and make your way out of the building”.
Mr Choucair, 40, died in flat 193, alongside 10 other victims.
An unknown female caller in the same flat called seven minutes later and said: “I can see the helicopter, can we escape to the helicopter please.”
The woman went on to say: “Please please, we’re burning!
“The fire is getting inside, please!”
Shortly before the call was cut off, she said: “If you send helicopter we can escape.”
The operator responded: “Alright, we’ll pass that over to them and let them know where you are, OK?”
The investigation found that the deployment of the helicopters was justified and “despite some evidence” of unclear conversations “there is also no evidence that any emergency call centre operators encouraged anyone to move to higher floors to be rescued”.
The conclusion reads: “A small number of people in Grenfell Tower, who were already of the belief that they were completely trapped, out of desperation and being aware of helicopter presence, developed the mistaken belief that a helicopter rescue was a possibility.”
The body also concluded that “none of the helicopters flew close enough to the tower for their rotor wash to have worsened the fire.”
As a result of the investigation, all emergency service call handlers must now explicitly inform any callers that mention helicopter rescue during an incident where NPAS craft are deployed that those helicopters are not able to do so.
IOPC regional director Sal Naseem said: “The fire at Grenfell Tower was a tragedy. We offer and extend our deepest sympathies to Mr Choucair, all those who lost loved ones and the survivors whose lives have been changed forever.”
He added: “The recommendations we have made and which have been accepted aim to ensure that call operators communicate, to people who find themselves in similar horrific and life-threatening situations, the reality of the choices they have.”
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