Turkish father couldn't let go of his daughter after earthquake


Southern Europe


Mesut Hancer holds the hand of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak, who died in the earthquake in Kahramanmaras. Photo AFP, Adem Altan

The father holding the hand of his dead daughter after the earthquake in Turkey became a symbol of the disaster. This is his story.

Irmak was 15 years old when she died in her bed. She stayed the night at her grandma's house to spend more time with her cousins visiting from Istanbul and Hatay. When the earthquake struck, the eight-storey building came crashing down on her.

French news agency AFP sought Mr Hançer and found him three weeks later in the Turkish capital Ankara. Far away from their devastated hometown of Kahramanmaras, the family is trying to build a new life there. They found shelter with a businessman who, like millions of others, was moved by the photo. Hancer was offered a job as an administrative assistant at the businessman's TV station.


At the time of the earthquake, Mr Hançer worked in his bakery. He immediately called his family in search of news. Their one-story house, although damaged, was standing, and his wife and three adult children were safe. However, the family could not reach the youngest child, Irmak.

It took three days before Mr Hançer reached his daughter in his mother's house.

Turkish father Mesut Hancer ©, his wife Gulseren (2ndR), and their children Beste (L), Ezgi (2ndL) and Berkay (R) pose in their appartment in Ankara. Photo AFP, Adem Altan

There, he only found a pile of debris. The eight-storey building had collapsed and was reduced to rubble. And in the middle of the ruins, Mr Hançer found his daughter. "I tried by myself, with my hands, to pull my daughter out, but unfortunately I couldn't rescue her", Hançer told CNN.

It was also impossible to use heavy equipment to retrieve his daughters' body. "There was no way to get an excavator at that spot. Turkish disaster management officials said the building would collapse if the excavator got close."

Mr Hançer didn't take kindly to it. "Give me the digger," I said. "But they said, 'you get a team. We will use muscle power to save your child."

While waiting for help, Mr Hançer held the hand of his daughter. Around this time, press photographer Adem Altan arrived at the spot and shot the iconic images.

Photo AFP, Adem Altan

Until evening, the debris was beaten small with picks and other tools. "Then we pulled my daughter out. I never wanted to let go of her hand. My daughter was sleeping like an angel; she died without suffering pain. That is my only consolation. I held her hand and caressed her face. That was all I could do."


In total, Mr Hançer lost seven family members. "It is indescribably difficult to dig the grave of loved ones yourself." The grief for his late daughter cannot be described. "Burying your mother, father, and brother is bad, but your child? She took my life, heart and arms with her when she died."



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