Simon Cording was one of the British International Search and Rescue Team who saved a toddler buried under tonnes of rubble after the Haiti earthquake in January.

 

Mia Charlet, then two, had been entombed in the ruins of her nursery for three days before the firemen arrived.

The moment Simon plucked her to safety became one of the most iconic images of hope to emerge from the devastation of the island's massive quake, touching hearts worldwide.

He was one of a nine-man crew from Manchester who had only been in Haiti for a day when desperate locals alerted them to the collapsed nursery. They inched their way through the debris in blistering heat with just a trowel, a metal bar and their bare hands.

They burrowed through the darkness for four painstaking hours - guided only by Mia's tiny whimpers. "One wrong move, one piece of metal or wood sliding out at the wrong moment would have brought the entire place down and killed us both," Simon recalls.

"We had to swap round every ten minutes because it was almost impossible to breathe in there with the dust and heat. The tunnel had to be so narrow to prevent a collapse that you couldn't even crawl back out on your own. You had to be dragged by your feet."

Reliving the moment he found Mia, he goes on: "It was a real relief to see her little eyes flashing in my torchlight. At first that was all I could see. I gave her a teddy bear to comfort her as I made the hole big enough to squeeze her through."

Dehydrated but suffering from little more than cuts and bruises, the little girl was reunited with her mother, who had been watching helplessly as the rescue unfolded.

"Although it was me who finally pulled Mia out, I never would have got to her had it not been for the whole team," insists Simon.

"Being able to help Mia was a great feeling but seeing five bodies of children the team could not save brought home the reality of the situation."

Simon says: "Leaving Haiti was hard because we normally see the job to its conclusion. But around every corner you saw devastation, feeling helpless that there simply weren't enough hours in the day to help everyone. But this is our job and you do what you have to."

He adds: "The whole operation in Haiti was a massive team effort, not just for us, but also for the 53 other British search and rescue firemen who went out there too."

The rescue team, from fire stations across Manchester, are John Hughes, Simon Cording, Vic Kopicki, Peter Stevenson, Martin Fisher, Dean Nankivell, Martin Foran, Mick Dewar, Andy Roughley and Echo the search dog.

 

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