First responders from Southwest Florida responded immediately to help search in the rubble.
WINK News sat down with task force six one year after that hard journey began.
Dozens of men and women worked for hours a day, days on end, on top of a large pile of debris from fallen Champlain Towers South, where 98 people died on June 24, 2021.
Among the rescuers was Southwest Florida’s very own Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 6 (USAR).
Shane Sibert is the guy in charge. We met him in Surfside just before first responders shifted from rescue to recovery., and he always held onto hope.
“It’s grim, but we always have faith that there’s someone we could pull out ,” Sibert said.
It’s been one year since crews learned there wasn’t one living soul down there to save.
We asked Sibert to sit down with us ahead of his trip back to Surfside, one year later.
“I don’t know if it helps them to bring closure to see some of the teams that were there trying to work to either rescue and then in turn recover some of their family members,” Sibert explained. “I don’t know, I don’t really know what to expect to be honest. ”
Sibert is an honest guy and straightforward. Surfside challenged his team.; mentally and emotionally.
The building collapse happened so fast and there were so many bodies. The sights and sounds are hard to shake.
“We’ve done some training, just here locally, at the Old Naples Beach Hotel after being demoed. And that brought back some memories for some of the team members as well,” he said.
In the year since surfside, we’ve learned a lot about the collapse, but still not what caused it.
“I think some of the team members would love to know what happened. I told them don’t focus on that, ” Sibert said.
That made us wonder., as we reflect, what should we focus on?
To find out, we called Mike Noriega. His grandmother Hilda lived on the 6th floor.
Noriega recalled, “We saw her patio furniture right there. And we just couldn’t believe that my grandmother was underneath that rubble. ”
It’s no surprise Noriega believes we ought to honor those precious lives lost. “You know, we all know how everyone died. But the true legacy is how did everyone live? ”
Noriega said his grandmother lived for faith, family, and friends. But faith first.
So Mike focuses on that.
To Keep the faith that he and the rest of these battle-tested families will be OK; this year and the next.
“When the storms of life hit, how is it that you can go through heartbreak without breaking your spirit?” Noriega asked. “How can you live your life in a way to where when life hits really hard, and you’re going through tough times, how is it that you can live your life in a way where your character doesn’t collapse? Like my grandmother’s building did. ”
One year ago, there was no hope of finding a living person under that pile, but one year later, Noriega is living proof that does not mean there’s no hope.