The body of a person killed in a tragic building collapse in North Vancouver on Wednesday has been recovered.
Lower Lonsdale residents felt their apartments shake as a “structural collapse” occurred next door to their buildings at the former Cineplex Esplanade site, at Chesterfield Avenue, between West First Street and Esplanade at 9:45 a.m. on Aug. 25.
North Vancouver RCMP confirmed one worker had died and another had been taken to hospital after the building under demolition had “a structural failure of some sort,” causing it to partially collapse.
Sgt. Peter DeVries, spokesman for North Vancouver RCMP, said personnel at the scene had determined one person had been trapped in the rubble and died as a result of catastrophic injuries.
DeVries said rescue crews were not able to immediately recover the body because the site was considered too dangerous.
Greg Shalk, Chief of North Vancouver City Fire Department, said the CAN-TF1 Heavy Urban Search and Rescue task force from Vancouver Fire Rescue Services was called in to assist with the operation due to the severity of the situation.
David Boone, assistant chief of the VFRS operations division, said the CAN-TF1 team was able to recover the victim’s body from the debris around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The worker’s identity has not been released by officials.
“We responded with 25 team members including our Structural Collapse Engineers and relied upon our engineers to provide a critical analysis of the structural stability of the building components compromised and structure remaining in place,” he said.
“We developed a plan that included the requirement to stabilize some compromised structural elements and went to work to establish safe access to the victim. We were able to do so and remove debris from the victim, and packaged and removed the victim from the space found.”
Boone said the victim was removed to a safe location within the building and passed off to B.C. Coroner Services and RCMP.
DeVries said a second worker who had been injured had been taken to Lions Gate Hospital, with non-life-threatening injuries. Shalk said the worker, now in hospital, was operating machinery when the collapse occurred, and fire crews were able to pull them out of the machine.
North Vancouver RCMP along with North Vancouver City Fire Department and BC Ambulance Service remained at the scene for hours on Wednesday to control the incident. Streets in the area were closed and were being re-routed as a safety precaution.
The old Cineplex Esplanade theatre building closed in April of 2019 in light of the new Park Royal location opening. Cressey Development Group and First Capital Realty are set to build a nine-storey, mix-used residential and retail development at the site. The developer could not confirm if the project would be delayed due to the incident.
“First and foremost, Cressey Development Group expresses its deepest sympathy to the families who have been affected by this tragedy,” Hani Lamman, executive vice-president at Cressey Development Group, said.
She said Cressey Development Group, First Capital, and the demolition contractor, Done Right Demo, were working closely with emergency responders to assess the situation.
“We are unable to confirm any further details at this time,” Lamman said.
'I literally felt my apartment shake'
Residents in the buildings next door took to social media saying they felt the impact of the collapse Wednesday morning.
"Holy crap. I’m in the building next door and felt things shake," wrote Becky Knight.
Per Christensen, who lives across from Chesterfield Avenue, said he was having his morning coffee on his balcony when he witnessed part of the building crumble.
“There was a big Caterpillar [excavator] working from the second level, the mezzanine or the second floor of the building, and it was working, as usual, trying to demolish the wall with the help of this machinery,” he said.
He said he had seen two people working at the site, the Caterpillar operator and another worker spraying down the dust from the concrete.
“I think I had been watching for about 20 minutes or something like that with my coffee and then it happened – the floor just collapsed and the whole thing sank down, and they [two workers] disappeared into all the debris,” Christensen said.
He said it was a shock to see, having been watching the demolition for months now.
“It was an unexpected thing to happen,” he said. “There was obviously a crash sound,” he said.
“It sounded like it happened all at once.”
City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan shared her condolences on Twitter, saying the incident was a "tragedy for our community."
"Everyone who goes to work has the right to come home to their loved ones each night," she wrote.
"Today’s events are a tragedy for our community, and an unimaginable loss for the family and friends of the worker who died."
North Vancouver RCMP's Serious Crime investigators have now taken over the investigation to determine whether or not there was any criminality involved in the collapse.
"As this is an ongoing investigation, no further details will be provided," DeVries said.
DeVries said if investigators determined there was no criminality involved, the investigation would transition over to the B.C. Coroners Service in partnership with WorkSafeBC.
In a post to Twitter, the North Vancouver RCMP said their "thoughts and hearts are with family and friends" of those involved.
WorkSafe BC has also launched an investigation into the incident.
"A prevention officer was assigned to the incident and is attending the scene," Samantha Pinto, WorkSafe BC spokeswoman, said.
"The purpose of an investigation is to identify the cause of the incident, including any contributing factors, so that similar incidents can be prevented from happening in the future."