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Tragedy strikes at mega-concert

February 25, 2001

Machel Montano
A distraught Machel Montano a few minutes after
the disaster struck at Chaguaramas Heliport yesterday.

SCORES of people who purchased the most expensive tickets to last night's Real Unity Concert were injured, some suffering broken bones, when the Platinum VIP stand collapsed shortly after 9 p.m.

Chaos was the only order evident, as injured people screamed for help, which was long in coming. Those who retained their mobility were crossing over the wounded and fractured in the rush for safe ground.

The show, billed as an 18th anniversary concert of soca star Machel Montano and his band Xtatik, was held at the Chaguaramas heliport and attracted more than 20,000 patrons. The stand that collapsed sold at the premium rate of $600 per ticket. It was a construction of scaffolding, covered with plyboard and situated immediately west of the front of the stage.

Well before the crash, several patrons had openly expressed the view that the VIP stand appeared unsafe.

Stirring pleas also came via the public address system, asking unauthorised people to leave that area. An actual warning came from Montano's father at about 8.40 p.m., saying: “What we have is a crisis situation here. Would the security officials please remove those people in the Platinum area who have no right to be there.”

But neither security officials nor ushers had been evident to those who arrived at the Platinum area shortly after 8 p.m. At that time there was a lull in live action onstage, as the huge crowd awaited the entrance of the soca superstar.

During the break, which continued until 8.50 p.m., big-ticket patrons on the seafront side of the stand watched on in amazement as stormers (gatecrashers) approached the venue in a convoy of pirogues, some of them making their way directly to the Platinum section.

Complaints were loud from those who thought themselves secure through the purchase of the premium ticket, which attracted the cream of society.

pregnant woman
A pregnant patron is being attended to after the incident yesterday.

Doctors, including North West Regional Health Authority chairman Tim Gopeesingh, several high-profile attorneys, a Who's Who of local celebrities and professionals, had opted for the Platinum stand.

Margaret Francisco, wife of the Mighty Sparrow (who was due to perform) had earlier decided to take her chair from the stand and sit at ground level.

She was among those forced to scamper away to safety when the stand came crashing down.

Montano had only just arrived onstage, succeeding the national anthem and amidst a spectacular display of fireworks and confetti. He broke into “Millennium Intro”. At that time, workmen could be seen under the Platinum stand, attempting to shore up the already sagging structure with additional scaffolding poles.

Mere minutes later, it came crashing down, trapping the workers underneath the pile of poles and plyboard. As the noise and visual horror of the crash brought his short-lived performance to a premature end, Montano moved to the corner of the stage nearest the Platinum stand, repeating: “I just want to know that everybody is okay.”

But everybody was far from okay. Some were limping away from the tragedy, others going to the bar for ice to nurse bruises and swellings, as those with broken bones lay waiting on professional help.

Among the injured was Beverly Baptiste, whose pregnancy is due for imminent confinement. Holding her stomach, she sobbed uncontrollably, as her husband assisted her toward ambulances that were positioned on the eastern side of the stage and which had no way of getting to the area where the tragedy occurred.

Pregnant woman stands by Machel

Machel and Beverly
Machel Montano embraces Beverly Baptiste after his news

November 28, 2000

The pregnant woman injured at Saturday's disastrous Real Unity concert said yesterday she is considering naming her unborn son after soca superstar Machel Montano.

Beverly Baptiste, who is eight months pregnant, said she is not blaming the singer for the mishap at the Chaguaramas Heliport, in which scores of patrons who had paid as much as $600 to attend the show were injured.

Baptiste spoke to reporters at the end of a news conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, held by Xtatik Ltd, one of the concert promoters, to address the issue of the VIP stand collapse at the show.

"Everything is okay with my baby," she said. "I am having a bit of pain, but all is okay. I found out today that I'm having a boy and the nurse who did the ultrasound suggested that I name him Machel. I am taking her advice. I am not blaming Machel. We should all give thanks that it was not worse," Baptiste said.

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