Dubai hotel fire: Survivor tells of harrowing wait for help

By Louisa Loveluck in Dubai

Photographer captures Dubai inferno from lonely ordeal on 48th floor balcony
Dennis Mallari says when he saw his rescuers' shadows he knew he would escape the blaze engulfing The Address Downtown Skyscaper. Photo / Supplied, AP
Dennis Mallari says when he saw his rescuers' shadows he knew he would escape the blaze engulfing The Address Downtown Skyscaper. Photo / Supplied, AP

The man who was trapped for two hours on the balcony of a Dubai skyscraper as it caught fire on New Year's Eve has described his agonising wait to be rescued.

Dennis Mallari, a Filipino photographer, described his terrifying ordeal on the 48th floor of luxury hotel The Address in vivid detail.

Like thousands of other Dubai residents, Mallari had been preparing to welcome in the New Year watching the Emirates' world-famous firework display. But as he put the finishing touches to his camera set-up, a colleague screamed "fire!".

Video

"I didn't understand. I checked one side of the balcony, nothing. I checked another side, nothing. Then I saw the smoke. By the time I had reached for my camera, the smoke had become red and I was alone," said Mallari.

Flames engulfed the outside of the 63-storey hotel within seconds, tearing it "like paper", according to onlookers, and sending revellers fleeing for their lives.

The inferno - the Emirates' third high-rise fire in three years - has raised fresh questions about the safety of materials used on tall buildings across the region. The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

Experts say up to 70 per cent of Dubai's 250 high-rise buildings use cladding with thermoplastic cores. Many are flammable.

Anchoring himself to a construction cable using his photographer's belt, Mallari spent two hours making frantic calls to friends, family and the police in the hope that help might be on its way.

"I was the last person in that swirling smoke. I could see the stampede down below, people running in all directions. Then I thought to myself: 'that's it, you are alone'," he said.

From the ground, a handful of colleagues kept their eyes glued to Mallari's bobbing head torch - the only sign to onlookers that he was still alive.

He captured the whole ordeal on camera. The footage shows fire blazing towards him before retreating from the force of the wind.

But those gusts also proved to be a false friend, Mallari said, causing the smoke to momentarily part into what looked like an escape route, before engulfing him once again.

He described how his rescuers had combed the building as the fire blazed, searching each room for survivors. His footage shows a team of firemen fighting through thick smoke as they bundled him to freedom down dozens of flights of stairs. Witnesses praised the authorities' reaction, describing its swiftness as the reason there was not a single death. But questions remain over the number of injured and several onlookers have suggested there may have been more than the 16 admitted.

On the 48th floor, the wait for rescue was agonising. "All I wanted was to escape to see my wife and family," said Mallari. "When I finally saw the Civil Defence's shadows on the wall, I knew I was safe. I couldn't believe it. I praised God."

Recovering at home yesterday with his wife, Mallari said he was having flashbacks. "I keep snapping back into the experience; thinking 'what if?'.

"But then I have to bring myself back, I have to live in the present."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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