Did an exit door that refused to open contribute to the deaths of worshippers who perished at Al Noor Mosque at the hands of the terrorist?

That’s the focus of the second sitting of phase one of the Mosque Attack Inquest which began in Christchurch today. The first sitting last year ran for seven weeks with 90 witnesses.

Deputy Coroner Brigitte Windley said, “Potentially around 11 of those who lost their lives at Masjid Al Noor were affected by the failure of the door to open during the attack”.

She highlighted the fact that had the door – identified as Door D – opened during the attack, that in itself was no guarantee of survival as at least one of the deceased was fatally shot after having escaped through the broken glass.

The resumed first phase of the inquest hearing is expected to hear evidence from 16 witnesses, canvassing factual issues related to the locking mechanisms that were in place on Door D on March 15, 2019. It includes the recent installation of electro-magnetic locks; the regulatory regime applicable to Door D as a ‘final exit’ since Masjid an-Nur’s construction; and the conduct of those who had relevant roles and responsibilities for setting and discharging compliance requirements relevant to Door D under that regime.

Today the statement of survivor Khaled Al Nobani was read to the court detailing the struggle to get the door open, as the shooter opened fire in the prayer room.

“My friend was trying to break the glass on the bottom of Door D. I said something like, ‘Why are you doing that? Just turn the lock and open the door’. I said that because lots of people were crowding there trying to break the glass. I then tried to open the door myself and realised it did not work. I turned the lock as I always had and it would not open. I tried turning the lock both ways and it would not open.”

Al Nobani had not been made aware a new electromagnetic lock had been added to the door in the days before the shooting.

“I escaped through the broken glass in Door D. While outside I saw a little boy accidentally being trampled by the other worshippers who were climbing out of the broken glass in Door D. I went and picked him up. I held him to my chest and covered his eyes so he could not see. With my other hand I grabbed people and helped pull them through the broken glass in Door D.”

He managed to save two more people, but his friend and neighbour was fatally shot as he tried to pull him to safety too.

Fifteen more witnesses will give evidence about the exit’s failure to open over the next two weeks. The witnesses will include survivors and other members of the Muslim community, and others who engaged with Door D as part of their job, or as part of the repairs and remedial work following the attack.