Hopes fading for Abbeydorney man trapped building hit by New Zealand earthquake

HOPES for the recovery of an Irish man trapped for hours in a Christchurch office building were fading last night.

The 40-year-old married father of one was reportedly in contact with a search and rescue team searching for victims of the New Zealand earthquake.

The team had been searching the ruins of the Pyne Gould Corporation building in the city centre, where John JJ O’Connor is believed to be an employee.

It is thought that his wife, who has been maintaining a vigil at the PGC building since Tuesday, is pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Mr O’Connor, who already has a son, is believed to have joined Perpetual Wealth Management after a recent move from London.

He is one of ten trapped in the ruins of the building and one of 17 Irish people who were still unaccounted for late yesterday.

Last night his mother, Sheila, was unavailable for comment as she was said to be visiting one of her daughters in London.

A relative at her house just outside the Co. Kerry village of Abbeydorney said the family did not wish to make any comment but that they were ‘anxiously waiting news, as you can imagine’.

Mr O’Connor’s father, Donald, who is believed to have died more than ten years ago, was a well-known farmer in the area.

A neighbour said last night: ‘I’ve only just heard and don’t know what to make of it. But I just hope he is okay and they get him out alive.’

Patrick Middleton, Mr O’Connor’s boss at Perpetual wealth management, said last night: ‘I can confirm that John O’Connor is working for Perpetual.

‘And our understanding is that he is in the building but at this stage, our key focus is on supporting his family.

‘The rescue operation continues on that building, but they are still working on the site and we just have to keep our hopes up.

‘We are holding out for hope as much as we can.’ He added: ‘The emergency services have been great.’

However, a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Fire Service last night played down reports of about survivors in the building.

She said: ‘Reports about a rescue are incorrect. There have been no indications of survivors in Christchurch since Wednesday.’

Elsewhere, the Department of Foreign Affairs say they are not ‘seriously concerned’ about the remaining 16 Irish citizens who have not yet been located.

But the Department’s Peader Carpenter said last night of Mr O’Connor’s situation: ‘We have a name of an Irish person who would be there.

‘The New Zealand crisis centre have told us they will advise us immediately there is official confirmation with regard to one Irish citizen who is supposed reported to be in a building where some people are alive.’

He added: ‘They have been talking to people in that building.

‘(But) we just have no (official) confirmation that he is definitely there or that they have spoken to them or that he is alive.’

Little is known about Mr O’Connor other than the fact that he is believed to have only moved to New Zealand two months ago.

He is said to have been working on the first floor of the PGC building when the quake struck.

He has been reported missing ever since.

Last night, the number of those officially declared dead following the disaster rose to 113.

Meanwhile, Pyne Gould Corporation bosses last night said they have been advised by emergency services that while they continue to search for people at its premises on Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch, the focus has shifted from rescue to recovery mode.

Fourteen people remain unaccounted for and are believed to still be in the building.

PGC chief executive Jeff Greenslade, said: ‘Our thoughts are with our missing colleagues and their families.’

So far, Monaghan-born psychiatric nurse Eoin McKenna is the only officially confirmed Irish fatality from the stricken city hit by Tuesday’s lunchtime 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

The 41 year old was crushed to death while sitting in his car in a car park moment after speaking to his wife Sarah top tell her he was shopping for a meal he had been due to cook later that evening.

At the time, she was visiting relatives with the couple’s two children, Grace, six, and Tadhg, five. He had moved there to live shortly after marrying Sarah about six years ago.

Members of his distraught family are expected to make their way to New Zealand either today or tomorrow, according to a friend of the family, to arrange for his body to be flown back to Ireland.

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