Accident: At least 100 individuals combed the banks of the Amochhu yesterday in search of the seven non-Bhutanese labourers who were washed away when the Denchukha-Dophuchen bridge located in Pultar, Dorokha dungkhag in Samtse collapsed on July 11.

The search has been extended to villages in the gewogs of Tading and Phuentsholing.

Villagers were mobilised from Tading gewog, and two villages, Majua and Lingden in Phuentsholing gewog.

The search will be into its fourth day today.

Nine non-Bhutanese labourers were on the bridge when the cable suspender of the suspension bailey bridge reportedly snapped. However, the cause of the collapse is yet to be confirmed.

One of the labourers was found dead and another was found severely injured after getting caught between the metal bars of the collapsed bridge. He has been referred to a hospital in Siliguri. Seven of them were washed away.

The labourers were working on the last stage of the construction, which involves connecting the two sides of the bridge, when it collapsed. Only a ten-foot span was left to be completed.

Site engineer Amit Kumar said that the incident occurred when they were returning for lunch from the bridge deck.

“I had just crossed the deck but nine of them were coming after me,” the engineer said. “It had happened as I looked back at them.”

While not exactly sure, Amit Kumar said that a cable had snapped. The bridge “jerked” and then fell 35 metres into the river, he added.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden visited the site and met with the search team and relevant officials yesterday.

“Given the weather conditions and the topography of the area, it is very difficult for the search party but the search will continue,” Lyonpo said.

The search team is comprised of army and police personnel, civil servants, and volunteers from Denchukha and Dophuchen.

“Since the accident took place at a great height in the middle of the bridge span, it is difficult to ascertain what failed,” Lyonpo said. “The few plausible causes could have led to the collapse of the bridge: i) failure of the trolley system used for sliding of bridge parts towards the centre of the bridge, and ii) the cables onto which the trolley was hung could have snapped,” Lyonpo added. “However, it is very difficult to establish the exact cause of the failure.”

Lyonpo pointed out that the department had been closely monitoring the progress of work. “Just a week back, a team had visited the site and the progress was good,” Lyonpo said. “The launching had progressed from both the ends, and one last panel in the centre span was left to be installed,” Lyonpo added. “It was a very unfortunate incident.”

The 400-foot suspension bailey bridge was supposed to be Denchukha’s first motorable bridge. It was scheduled to be completed on July 15.

The construction initially had started in 2012 and was scheduled to be completed in 2013. However, numerous problems plagued its progress.

A Bhutanese contractor completed the first component but failed to meet the primary deadline. The second part of the construction also did not go smoothly as several materials were stolen, which prolonged completion.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing