Firefighter helps rescue hotel gas-blast victims

A HOLIDAYING Billinge firefighter carried out a series of brave rescues at a gas-blast Mexican hotel.

Now trauma specialist Jeff Westwell’s first hand account is set to be a key part of the evidence after the complex owners were cited in a criminal prosecution.

Five Canadian tourists and two workers died in the inferno in Playa del Carmen which was eventually tracked to a leaking heating supply.

Mr Westwell, 44, who is based at Hindley Fire Station, was halfway though a fortnight’s break at the Grand Riviera Princess Hotel with partner Gill Brock, when the explosion ripped through the complex’s lobby.

It is alleged that ambulances were initially barred from entering the hotel and four people may now face criminal charges in the homicide investigation, state officials say.

A firefighter for 18 years who has worked at Stretford, Leigh and now Hindley stations, Mr Westwell said that his partner had been reading on their room’s balcony and he had been watching TV in the room when it was rocked by a “blast of air”.

It was so unlike anything he had witnessed before in the fire service that he initially thought it must be “something like a tornado”.

But when he went onto the balcony he found his partner covered in dust and knew immediately that there had been an explosion, fearing initially it was a terrorist attack.

But instinctively he swung into action.

Mr Westwell said: “Being a firefighter I knew that there were bound to be casualties so I jumped the balcony wall and ran towards the scene.

“I was vaguely aware of people that had staggered or had been blown out near to the entrance of the lobby and I ran up to the building and looked inside, although the floor appeared to have given way and my thought was that it must be a basement and not safe to walk upon.

“I could only see two people inside, a female sitting on the edge of the crater and a male stood over her, both were blooded and in their 50s. I shouted to the man and he helped the female up and started to make their way out.”

As his eyes focused he saw another woman holding a young child that was “covered in blood”.

He said: “I walked up to her to take the child but the child was screaming its lungs out and this is a good sign of strength.”

He hopes his extremely detailed account given to the authorities will now help in the prosecution.