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Ambulance Responds Too Late for Journalist at UN, Searched at 1st Ave Gate, Another Investigation

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 21, updated Feb. 22 -- A journalist was taken out of the UN by an ambulance, apparently too late, on the night on February 21. Hans Janitschek, a correspondent for Austrian media, had recently returned to the UN press corps, asking questions ranging from the bombing of the UN in Algiers to a more recent February 17 death at the UN Headquarters. Janitschek had long covered and been affiliated with the UN, and his fellow journalists appreciated his expertise and sense of humor. He was still smiling when, at 7:10 p.m. Thursday, he fell to the floor. A co-worker, according to his written statement which Inner City Press has seen, immediately called the UN operator on three occasions "to report what had happened to Mr. Janitschek, however, they could not provide any assistance." Regular New York City "911" emergency services were not called, due to previous difficulties and delays in them gaining access to the UN campus, which is international territory. Only after UN Security and Safety Services were called directly did anyone appear, and even then, with oxygen equipment that was less than functional.

            According to the written account, in which a senior UN Security official was involved, it was fully 24 minutes until Emergency Services Technicians arrived, and by then it was too late. Another reporter on the UN's press floor at that time states that the ambulance was held for precious minutes at the gate from First Avenue, as for example the bottom of its chassis was inspected with mirrors. The reporter questioned why ambulances responding to medical emergencies are searched for so long.

            Han Janitschek had spent his Thursday at the UN asking questions. At the day's noon press briefing, he asked about another death at the UN, four days previous, alluding to discordant reports in the Viennese press. Spokesperson Michele Montas replied that there was no indication of foul play. Later in the briefing, a staffer handed her a note, and she amended her answer to say that the investigation is still underway. Video here.


Han Janitschek

            Thursday night, the room in which Mr. Janitschek had been was strewn with medical emergency detritus. UN Security said that, in order to conduct an investigation, the room would have to be sealed, so that nothing could be taken, including computer files, the UN security official said. So, another investigation. One wonders if this investigation will also extend to why ambulances responding to medical emergencies at the UN are searched for so long, and the impact on this case.

Update: on Feb. 22 at the UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: How long did it take and what is the policy of the UN on letting emergency medical personnel on the UN property?

Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq: First of all, there were emergency medical personnel on hand at the time. As I just mentioned, three UN security officers who are qualified EMTs performed CPR on Mr. Janitschek, and there was no sign of life at the time. A defibrillator was used to try to start his heart, to no avail, and appropriate medical protocols were followed. The person who was with Mr. Janitschek, Mr. Casella, your colleague, had immediately called the UN operator, who called security, who then called the emergency responders, including a direct call to New York hospital. The first responder was actually a fire engine truck. They were not allowed in, because they could not provide the level of care needed, compared to the trained EMTs, who were there on site already, the three UN security officers. An ambulance arrived 10 seconds later, and that ambulance and paramedics were let in directly. Like I said, all of that was to no avail, ultimately. Mr. Janitschek gave no sign of life throughout this process.

Inner City Press: First of all, who decides whether to let in or not to let in a New York City fire truck? And what is the policy of the UN in terms of this? Does it automatically allow emergency or fire personnel without [searching or blocking them]?

Associate Spokesperson: We have the protocol to call in emergency responders when there is an emergency in the building, and that protocol was followed. As far as checking vehicles that come in, that is a standard security procedure, but that did not result in any significant delay. Like I said, the ambulance and paramedics were let in directly.

The UN later added that [After the briefing, the Spokespersonís Office confirmed that the ambulance was not stopped at the front gate at all.]

Editor's note: beyond that fact that several witnesses continue to describe the searching of the ambulance, no one has rebutted or even denied the 24 minute response time. In the UN's scripted statement at Friday's noon briefing, highlighted above, it is said that a fire truck was denied entry. A UN security officerafter the briefing confirmed that when FDNY vehicles come to the UN, the policy is to not let them in unless there is / the UN is aware of a fire. There's a problem: FDNY took over EMS ambulances some time ago, and FDNY personnel are trained in the procedures which were needed Thursday night. So why have a policy that includes turning away official NYC emergency responders from the FDNY? Watch this site.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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