'I thought I was going to die' - Guthrie Street gas blast survivor speaks of being 'buried alive' 30 years on

On October 3 1989 the 19-year-old student Martin Baptie went to bed in the first floor flat at number 27 Guthrie Street he had moved in to only the previous day.

By Elsa Maishman
Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 7:45 pm
Martin Baptie now, and with the firemen who rescued him a year on from the blast. Other pictures show the firefighters who were brought in to search for survivors.
Martin Baptie now, and with the firemen who rescued him a year on from the blast. Other pictures show the firefighters who were brought in to search for survivors.

He awoke hours later ‘in a nightmare’, to find himself buried alive, trapped in a dark, dusty space surrounded by rubble and debris.

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'I Thought I was Going to Die'

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Martin Baptie with the firefighters who rescued him.

“I remember I could only move one of my arms,” said Mr Baptie, who now lives in Lancashire.

“I was only able to push the mattress just a little so I could breathe, but apart from that I was stuck,” he said.

Mr Baptie ‘shouted and shouted’ for help until his voice was sore, but no one came.

Eventually he heard a faint noise, and thought help was on its way.

Martin playing the violin.

But then it went quiet again.

What Mr Baptie heard was the movement of firemen searching for survivors, but before they could discover him they had moved away to a different spot.

“Then I thought I was going to die, and I tried to prepare myself for death,” said Mr Baptie.

Four Hours Under the Rubble

After four hours trapped under the rubble, firemen eventually managed to locate Mr Baptie and a fireman, Keith Burgoyne, touched his leg.

The fire service team then brought in a paramedic, Mike Herriot, to assess Martin’s injuries and decide whether he needed on-the-spot treatment before being brought out of the rubble.

“Access to him was difficult, to say the least,” said Mr Herriot, who had been called to the scene from Livingston and was sent into the rubble still in his District Ambulance Officer uniform of a suit and tie.

Mr Baptie remarkably had only minor physical injuries - shoulder and chest pains as well as cuts and bruises.

“The problem was more the distressing situation,” said Mr Herriot.

“He just needed to be taken out of there.”

Mr Baptie was so upset by the experience that all he could do was shout and swear at the rescuers.

“He did exceptionally well given the circumstances,” said Mr Herriot. “It was an extremely distressing situation for anyone to be in.”

Rescue workers managed to bring Martin Baptie out from under the pile of debris and send him to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for treatment.

“I remember him saying when he got out that he was lucky to be alive,” said Mr Herriot. “And he really was.”

Two others were not so lucky.

Those Who Died in the Guthrie Street Blast

Nicola Donnelly, a 21-year-old student, and Peter Small, a 35-year-old lecturer at Stevenson College in Sighthill, were both killed.

Several other residents of the were injured, including Dawn Howbridge, 20, Henry Wylie, 20, and Paula Gaunt, 28, who lived in the same building as Mr Baptie, and Helen Lawrie, 47, who was visiting at the time.

Mr Baptie had PTSD following the incident, and was treated by a psychologist, Dr Piernay of the Keil Centre in Morningside, who had treated survivors of the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in 1988.

“It took a few years to feel like I was over it, but he cured me, he was superb,” said Mr Baptie.

Mr Baptie believes he is ‘stronger’ because of the experience he went through.

“I think it helps me get a bit of perspective on life. It makes you really appreciate things a lot more,” he said.

“When there are tough times for whatever reason I feel like nothing is insurmountable. And I try and use the story to help others who are struggling.”

Mr Baptie, now 49, visits Edinburgh often from his home in Lancashire, and hopes to return to Scotland one day.

He took a year out from his studies to recover from the experience, and then went on to get a degree in microbiology.

He currently works at Warburtons, and has twin daughters, 16, and a son, 14.

Remarkably, one of the only things to survive the blast was Mr Baptie’s fiddle, which suffered just a scratch.

He now plays in a folk band called Drop the Floor.

“I want to pass on my best wishes to the firemen and anyone else involved in the operation,” he said.

“They really were heroes.”