The collapse of a heritage-protected brick wall at the old Carlton & United Breweries site on the CBD edge in Carlton during gusty winds has killed two young people – a man and a woman possibly in their late teens – who were on the Swanston Street footpath.
A third person, a woman aged 19, was rushed to the Royal Melbourne Hospital with life-threatening injuries and was undergoing surgery as The Saturday Age went to press.
WorkSafe and police were investigating the incident, which occurred soon after 3pm. The red brick wall, about 2.4 metres high, toppled onto the footpath on the western side of the street. The collapsed segment was about 15 metres long.
People rush to the scene of the wall collapse. Photo: Broede Carmody and Jonathan Lian via Twitter
Passers-by desperately dug through the rubble to try to help the three people trapped.
RMIT student Jonathan Lian, 19, was eating in a cafe across the road and was one of the first on the scene. "I heard a loud noise, it was like a thunder clap. I thought a bomb went off," he said. Two victims had been visible under the rubble, "their hands and torsos sticking out", as people ran to help.
He said one person had taken the pulse of the man and shouted: "He's still alive, hang on!" But paramedics who arrived minutes later confirmed that two people had died.
Firemen and workers frantically dig into the fallen brick wall. Photo: Ken Irwin
"The police came shortly after, it was just terrible, it was just ghastly," Mr Lian said.
"The wind was blowing dust in my eyes, I couldn't see very clearly. The dust was very harsh, it was sand from the bricks. The wind was really strong, it was like some bomb going off in the Middle East."
Martin Setka was on the corner of Swanston and Queensberry streets when the wall collapsed and ran to help.
Before the collapse... the wall on the corner of Swanston Street and Cornell Place. Photo: Google Street View
He described the distressing scene: "I saw a female who was half buried and half not, so we all attended to her, and some other people started pushing the other bricks away. As they were pushing the bricks away they happened to come across two other people who were buried.
"It touches home, it really touches home, you just don't know what's around the corner. It's just a freak accident. They have got families now that are going to mourn them, and they should be there celebrating Easter."
Construction giant Grocon, which plans to develop the site, said the incident was a "terrible tragedy". Grocon deputy CEO Carolyn Viney said the company would conduct its own investigation.
Brick wall collapse
Two people have been killed when a brick wall collapsed in Melbourne’s CBD. Police said a man and a woman had died in the accident on the corner of Swanston Street and Cornell Place, Carlton. Photo: Broede Carmody and Jonathan Lian
"We extend our sympathies to the families of those killed and to the person injured, and we also thank those who worked at the scene to assist in trying to rescue them," she said. "This is a terrible tragedy for all concerned, particularly coming at this time of year when people are preparing for the Easter break."
Acting Inspector Ian Lindsay of Victoria Police said it appeared the victims were "pedestrians in the wrong place at the wrong time", and he praised witnesses who rushed to help.
"We have the Coroner on site, we have WorkSafe, we have the city engineers, representatives from the CFMEU and other services," he said.
With CATHERINE CHISHOLM, LARA O'TOOLE, MICHELLE GRIFFIN and MICHAEL GORDON