'One hour, then that's it, I'm dead'

A fire engulfs The Address Hotel in downtown Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Dec 31, 2015.
A fire engulfs The Address Hotel in downtown Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Dec 31, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBAI • A professional photographer got more than what he was trying to capture when he managed to film the chaotic scene of the Dubai skyscraper blaze, while dangling off a rope from the 48th floor.

Filipino photographer Dennis Borja Mallari was on assignment for Dubai newspaper Al Bayan to take photos of fireworks at a nearby New Year's Eve celebration.

He had set up his gear on the 48th floor of The Address Downtown, a 63-storey luxury hotel, telling the Manila Times in Tagalog that he had " a perfect spot, a full, unobstructed view of the Burj Khalifa".

He said that, while he was doing test shots of the Burj Khalifa, fellow photographer Oliver Clarke, who was in the same room, shouted to him that there was a fire.

PICTURES ON MY MIND

If it's your time to go, you're really going. It's not yet my time. I was still initially calm because all I was thinking about were my pictures.

MR DENNIS BORJA MALLARI, a Filipino photographer who managed to capture the hotel fire on video while dangling from a rope 48 storeys above ground

While Mr Clarke made for the exit, Mr Mallari said he took a few photos before deciding to leave, but thick smoke had already covered the path leading to the stairwell.

"I hesitated about running to the exit because of the smoke. I was afraid I'd get knocked out by the smoke, lose my phone signal or encounter a fire along the way, so I started texting photographer friends who were on the ground and asked them to tell the Civil Defence people that I was trapped on the 48th floor," the Philippine native told the Manila Times.

Worried that he would die from suffocation, Mr Mallari decided to roll out some 30m of a heavy-duty cable from a crane used by workers to clean the tower's windows.

He tied the cable to his belt and photography equipment and stepped out and off the building to hang off the balcony.

He managed to record and post a video on his Facebook account and YouTube channel, showing that the flames got within 10m of his location.

"One hour, then that's it, I'm dead," he told the Manila Times, explaining what was going through his mind at the time.

Mr Mallari added that a Civil Defence phone dispatcher managed to contact him via telephone and attempted to keep him calm.

"I was telling him I hoped to survive and see my wife," Mr Mallari said.

A harrowing half an hour later, he heard rescue workers approaching his floor.

Mr Mallari told the Manila Times that when he saw lights and heard footsteps, he started tapping on some aluminium at hand to get the workers' attention.

He said that he had disregarded his own safety as he was focused on producing great images of the fireworks display.

"If it's your time to go, you're really going. It's not yet my time. I was still initially calm because all I was thinking about were my pictures," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2016, with the headline ''One hour, then that's it, I'm dead''. Print Edition | Subscribe