CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Officials have released the 911 call that a homeowner made while trapped under the rubble after a home explosion in Ballantyne.
The explosion, caused by an interior gas leak, happened before 2 p.m. on July 2 at a home on James Jack Lane in Ballantyne Country Club. Charlotte firefighters say Dr. Jebran Karam and his wife, 58-year-old Rania Karam, were returning home from a vacation and the explosion ignited within a few minutes of them walking inside.
Fire investigators determined there was a significant rise in natural gas several days prior to the couple returning home and that the home was “most likely saturated with natural gas.”
Dr. Karam was able to call 911 from the underneath wreckage using his Apple Watch and give crews information that allowed them to locate himself and his wife.
Officials say Dr. Karam was alert and conscious when he was freed from the rubble.
Rescue crews found Dr. Karam’s wife, Rania, at the home about seven hours after the explosion. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
“It was a difficult process to locate her,” Charlotte Fire Department Battalion Chief Matt Westover said.
In the nearly hour-long 911 call, Dr. Karam speaks with a 911 operator to inform them that his house had exploded and he was trapped under the rubble.
“There was an explosion at my house. I am under the rubble,” Dr. Karam told the operator. “I am trapped in the house and I don’t know what happened to my wife.”
Dr. Karam explains to the operator what happened before the explosion.
“We were downstairs because we smelled something wrong and she went down and I went to follow her, and all of the sudden I heard an explosion that threw me away and then the stairs all came on me. I cannot see what is happening to the stairs and I’m calling my wife and I can’t hear her. She is also in the basement,” Dr. Karam said.
Dr. Karam expressed concern about the whereabouts of his wife throughout the 911 call, asking the operator and fire crews if they had found her.
The 911 operator explained to Dr. Karam that he was going to stay on the line with him until first responders were able to get to him.
“They’re figuring out a way to get you out. All right? I’m not going to hang up the phone until we get somebody right there with you,” the operator said.
During the 911 call, the fire crew can be heard arriving to help Dr. Karam get free from the rubble. The 911 call ended just after 52 minutes as fire crews continued to work to rescue him.
WBTV sat down with Captain Chad Michael of the Charlotte Fire Department Station 3 and four of his firefighters - Matt Saraceno, Cody Whiteside, James Harrison and Chris Cangemi – who were on the rescue team for the explosion. The say their focus from the beginning was getting the husband and wife out of the home.
Charlotte Fire Captain Chad Michael said that being able to maintain communication with Jebran throughout the rescue gave them an added sense of urgency - they knew he was alive and wanted to get him out as fast as possible.
“I know when we were in there at one point I could see shelves and I knew then we were digging through what used to be part of a closet,” Captain Michael said. “But nothing was what it had once been. The survivor was on the phone with communications trying to give directions from what I understand, but it was also hard because nothing was what it had once been.”
The firefighters say they went straight to work, as a team.
Firefighters Cangemi and Whiteside were two of the first to get their hands on the survivor. (They say Captain Jones from Station 32 was the first.) After they had moved the debris around him enough to where his torso was clear, firefighter Harrison jumped down into the hole with him to “give him a break physically” and support his back.
In the meantime, other firefighters continued to remove the rubble from around his legs. When they rescued him fully, he was still talking - which was reassuring to both the team and the paramedics on site.
After the four-hour rescue of him, who they knew was alive, the crew immediately began searching for his wife Rania. They thought she was still alive. It was still, they all five say, an “active rescue” in their minds.
All five firefighters say they hate losing anyone. No one wants to ever have to recover any bodies. But all also agreed in this particular case with such intense destruction, it’s a miracle they found anyone alive.
A security camera captured the moment of the home explosion.
The video shows the moment the explosion occurred, along with the moments before and after. The video was provided to WBTV by Richard Campe.
Soon after the explosion, multiple people reported debris striking surrounding homes. On Thursday, officials released more than 20 calls made to 911 by neighbors and nearby witnesses after the explosion.
From WBTV’s Sky3, the home appeared to be completely destroyed. Flames and smoke could be seen coming from the rubble and debris littered the area. Damage could be seen on the roofs of nearby homes.
The boom could reportedly be heard and felt almost five miles away. More than 80 firefighters from multiple agencies responded to the scene.
Officials say an outside investigation will continue through the insurance carriers and other specialty engineers who will conduct forensic testing and examination of the natural gas equipment from the home.
Fire officials say this process will most likely take many months and possibly longer for them to provide a more detailed analysis.