A couple who spent five hours trapped in Hotel Grand Chancellor as aftershocks shook the 26-storey building on February 22, 2011, are making a documentary on the experience.
Amber Mackintosh, 33, and Andy Cleverley, 37, were staying in the Cashel St hotel on the day of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
They got takeaways for lunch from Cashel Mall and were eating them in their top floor room when the earthquake struck at 12.51pm.
“We really did think we were going to die,” Mrs Mackintosh said.
Now on the eve of the seventh anniversary, the married couple, who met while working together at Christchurch’s Rydges Hotel in 2007, are about to make the documentary Bus Life NZ – Return to the Quake.
The documentary, which is funded through New Zealand on Air’s Skid Ahead programme, will be made up of three 10-15min episodes.
It will air on their YouTube channel Bus Life NZ in November.
Mrs Mackintosh said the first episode would give the accounts of those trapped in the hotel that day, and the people who helped rescue them.
The second would look at the struggle the couple went through after, while the third would look at the silver lining of their experience.
They had been living in Mt Cook, where Mr Cleverley was managing a hotel. They were staying at Hotel Grand Chancellor for two nights before moving to live in Australia.
They were among a group of 28 people who escaped the building together after the earthquake.
The building – one of Christchurch’s tallest – sank 3m in one corner.
But Mrs Mackintosh said they didn’t realise how bad it was initially.
When the September 4, 2010, earthquake struck, they were staying at Rydges Hotel, and just walked out. Mrs Mackintosh said they assumed it would be the same in the February quake.
She said they got into the pitch-black hallway and started running down the stairs until they realised the steps had given out at the 22nd floor.
“The people in front of us stopped because there were no stairs, they had just gone.”
She said the group, made up of other guests and some Fletcher builders, decided to stay put.
“The scariest part wasn’t when the initial earthquake struck. It was the aftershocks. We could kind of see buildings collapsing around us and we could hear the aftershocks coming.”
Mrs Mackintosh said her husband stayed calm so she felt safe.
“Nothing was really said between us until there was a really big aftershock about two hours into it. We were bracing for it, we could hear it coming. Andy just grabbed me and whispered into my ear I love you. I remember thinking we’re going to die.”
The group decided to find their own way out, rather than waiting to be rescued.
“I wanted to abseil down and said I wanted to tie the sheets together. If they had let me I would have 100 per cent done it. I wanted to get my feet on the ground so badly.”
Mrs Mackintosh said although some the stairs had collapsed, they managed to eventually work their way down to the 14th floor where a crane operator had raised a platform to the window. After breaking it, they climbed onto the platform and were lowered into the car park.
Mrs Mackintosh said the
crane operator, among some others who were there, would feature in the documentary, though they were still working through the details.
After the quake, Mrs Mackintosh and Mr Cleverley moved to Thredbo, Australia, as planned, to work at a resort. Their first child, Jake, was born in December 2011.
But Mrs Mackintosh knew something wasn’t right.
“I didn’t want my baby. I just wanted someone to come and take my baby away.”
She had postnatal depression.
They moved to the Gold Coast three months later. While Mrs Mackintosh started recovering, Mr Cleverley developed post-traumatic stress disorder from the earthquake.
He broke down in August, 2012.
“He just crumbled to the ground and started saying I can’t go back to work, I can’t do this, I can’t live anymore,” Mrs Mackintosh said.
He stopped working but did receive 80 per cent of his wage through his superannuation.
They decided life was too short.
In 2013 they returned to New Zealand and bought an 11m former school bus, and over a year converted it into their home.
Mr Cleverley – having had no previous video production experience – started a YouTube channel which had grown to more than 30,000 subscribers.
They moved into their renovated house bus in December 2016.
Now, they travel around New Zealand with Jake, six, and daughter Daisy, four, and make videos about their experiences. They get paid for their videos through Patreon and are sponsored by GoPro.
Mrs Mackintosh said their story showed a silver lining to the earthquake.
She said part of the documentary was raising awareness about mental health, and encouraging people to get support.
“With Andy’s post traumatic stress, there might be someone out there who has never dealt with it.”
Mrs Mackintosh and Mr Cleverley will come to Christchurch next month to film on the seventh anniversary of the quake. Other filming would take place between then and September.
Hotel Grand Chancellor was fully demolished in 2012.
Mrs Mackintosh, who grew up in South New Brighton, said there was “no trace” of the old Christchurch anymore.
“I did get really sad up until 18 months ago and started to feel happy about the city again.”
The family isn’t planning on settling down any time soon. Jake will start home-school this year.
“We don’t imagine in the foreseeable future living any differently. We’re looking at getting a piece of land somewhere. We’re not sure yet though.”