Fireman survives six-storey plunge into pit of flames

2013-12-05 00:00

A DURBAN fireman not only fell six storeys yesterday morning — he fell into a hellish pit, featuring an inferno, two deadly metal spikes, a dead body, and no means of escape.

Yet — in what the commander on scene called “a one-in-a-million survival, a miracle” — fireman Malusi Mncube, from Pietermaritzburg, survived both the 15-metre fall, fire and three hours trapped inside the pit with nothing but a bruised hip, after an elaborate rescue.

The drama played out at a disused lift shaft outside the Durban bus terminal shortly after midnight yesterday morning, when a homeless man was killed, following injuries from a fall and smoke inhalation. The man’s name has not been released, and his age was given as “approximately 40”.

During an effort to rescue the man after he fell down the shaft through a hole, Mncube fell through the same hole, triggering a second rescue effort by his colleagues.

Justin Bateman, a station chief with eThekwini Fire and Rescue, who supervised Mncube’s rescue, told The Witness: “I’m gobsmacked — he fell six storeys onto a bed of burning debris in a sealed concrete tube, and he’s basically okay. I could feel the heat standing six floors above. And anyway, if he didn’t happen to have breathing apparatus with him, he would not have survived 10 minutes down there — the smoke was trapped thick in that tube.”

Bateman said the “incredible” sequence of events were triggered when the victim fell through the floor of the machine room on the sixth floor of the station’s abandoned lift shaft.

He and another man had been living in the three-by-four-metre room, after metal doors from the adjoining stairwell had been pried open.

Bateman said the man landed on a layer of refuse at the base of the lift shaft.

However, seeing nothing but pitch darkness in the hole left behind, the room-mate reportedly set a piece of cardboard on fire and dropped it through the hole in an effort to see how far his friend had fallen.


• The burning cardboard ignited the pile of garbage – even as the man lying on it was heard to still be alive, and moaning loudly;

• After a five-man fire department team arrived on scene, Mncube, one of only two firemen on scene who were wearing breathing apparatus, found the hole on the sixth floor;

• While showing Bateman the hole, Mncube slipped and fell through — “yelling all the way down” until he slammed into the same pile of garbage, now burning fiercely, and narrowly missing two sharp metal poles;

• Bateman flooded the base of the sealed lift shaft with a firehose pointed through the hole as Mncube lay helpless among the flames;

• With only 10 minutes of oxygen remaining in the stricken fireman’s breathing tank — and smoke filling the chamber — Batemen ordered back-up breathing tanks to be rushed from the station, and lowered to Mncube on a rope;

• When desperate efforts to break through the side of the life shaft with a jack hammer failed, Bateman tied a rope “rescue rig”, and fireman Tyrell Bossinger abseiled to Mncube through the smoke to complete the rescue.

“I have never seen such relief as I saw in Malusi’s eyeballs as he came up,” said Bateman. “He was walking gingerly, and he was checked out at hospital, but he was okay. He was very thankful to the guys.”

Mark te Water, chief of fire for eThekwini, said “This guy was very, very fortunate, and it was a great effort by his colleagues to get him safely out. But its also sad that there was a loss of life in this incident. Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that firemen increasingly face with urban decay.”

Mncube is currently on injury leave, and was not available for comment.

Bateman said the victim’s body was also recovered using the rope rescue system.

Bateman was also on the scene last year when Gillitts fireman Vincent Mxele fell 30 metres down a cliff in Winston Park while battling a veld fire — and only suffered a broken leg.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.