The heat peeled concrete off walls … the apartment building in Bankstown.IT WAS a hot and windy afternoon when three young Chinese students got together to hang out and eat at their Bankstown apartment.
Yino Jiang, Jianwei ”Jason” Zeng and their friend, known as Connie, were on the balcony when something exploded or caught alight.
The dry breeze quickly fanned the flames while an open front door created a lethal wind tunnel through the apartment. Within minutes, a vicious blaze had leapt inside and blocked off the front entrance to the fifth-floor apartment.
Suddenly, the two women were trapped.
Ms Jiang, 27, and Connie, 19, fled to a bedroom but the fire was burning out of control. They frantically climbed out a window and stood on the windowsill, desperately hanging on to the side of the building as smoke billowed out.
Down below, dozens of bystanders had gathered, yelling at the young nursing students to wait until the arrival of firefighters, who were only seconds away. Other residents had fled to the roof or were screaming for help from their balconies.
The fire in the apartment on Thursday was nudging 1000 degrees, peeling concrete off the walls and lifting tiles off the floor.
When fire investigators later went into the charred apartment, the aluminium window frame that Ms Jiang and Connie had clung to was completely melted and the apartment’s steel structures were exposed and warped.
”Everyone on the street was yelling ‘don’t jump, don’t jump’ but I don’t think they could stay there any longer because of the heat,” said Jama Wagad, 32, who lives on the seventh floor. ”That’s when they fell.”
The crowd screamed in horror as the women plummeted 15 metres, hitting a ledge on the first floor. Connie died on impact and Ms Jiang was rushed to hospital in a critical condition suffering burns, smoke inhalation and severe trauma. As she slowly stabilised yesterday afternoon, police advised the Herald that Mr Zeng had initially tried to put out the flames but later left the scene. He was on an expired visa.
Police urged him to come forward yesterday and he showed up at Surry Hills Police Station about
8.30 last night.
Eduardo Garcia, who works at a restaurant in the apartment complex and knew Mr Zeng, saw him run out of the apartment block screaming ”there’s two girls inside, there’s two girls inside”.
”Minutes later they appeared in the window,” Mr Garcia said. ”After that, he tried to go inside the building but then the girls jumped and he disappeared.”
There was speculation he was seen smoking on the balcony just before the fire. Forensic investigators will continue to examine the property today to determine how the fire started and whether it was deliberately lit.
Among the 51 residents rescued from the building, several said they had trouble reaching fire exits or had ignored the fire alarm at first because alarms were set off often in the apartment block.
Ms Jiang and Connie had arrived in Australia only months ago, excited about studying nursing at the University of Western Sydney and living with other students in the modern Bankstown complex.
Just last month, Ms Jiang celebrated her 27th birthday with coffee at Max Brenner and a birthday cake in the three-bedroom apartment.
Yesterday, however, her parents were rushing to Sydney from Harbin, in north-eastern China.
Connie’s Chinese parents, who were in Sydney, ”cried for the whole night”, a friend said, and were too distraught to talk to anyone but the police.
with Amy McNeilage, Lisa Davies and Nick Ralston
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