Six bodies still missing, search operation to continue today with excavators
The work was coming to an end. Soon it will be handed over and the workers would be leaving for home, in the neighboring states, India.
Depsingh and 11 other men were carrying out some final touches on the Damchhu-Haa bypass bridges’ railing. Around 4:15pm on Tuesday, Depsingh became thirsty. He left the worksite to quench his thirst.
When he returned to resume his work, he couldn’t believe what he saw. As he was approaching the bridge, the bridge collapsed taking along with it his friends.
“We were all supposed to leave for home after the completion of the work today,” Depsingh from Cooch Bihar, India said, still shivering recalling what he witnessed.
The 25-year-old eyewitness who narrowly escaped the accident said, “Around 4:30pm, I had come to the campsite to drink water. As I was returning, I saw the middle portion of the bridge sink slightly.” He added, “As the structure began to fall apart, I saw two men running towards the Haa end of the bridge. They couldn’t make it. If only they had run towards the other side instead.”
A major portion of the bridge, on the Haa end, had completely collapsed compared with the portion towards Damchu.
Along with Depsingh, another worker Rubish Mohoto, and an expatriate engineer with the construction company had just crossed the bridge towards Damchu, minutes before the fatal accident.
Depsingh said that at the time of the accident, there were nine individuals working on the bridge. A backhoe loader had just crossed the bridge ferrying materials from the other side of the bridge. “Since the two ends of the bridge were joined about two months ago, both workers and machine have been plying over the bridge.”
The project contractor had arrived a few months ago to conduct the load-testing exercise, the final work before handing over the project. On the sides of the bridge were hundreds of bags filled with soil, stones and gravels to be used for the load-testing exercise. The bridge collapsed before the test was conducted.
Despite several attempts, the contractor who Kuensel met at the accident site, refused to talk to Kuensel. There were no sign boards showing the project details at the site. Project Dantak officials couldn’t be contacted despite several attempts.
Construction works of the 207m bridge along the 12km Damchu-Haa link road started in January 2017. The bridge that joins Chuzom-Haa road at Wanakha, Paro is being constructed at a cost of around Nu 230 million.
Efforts to look for the six missing bodies, started as early as 6am yesterday. Close to 100 soldiers of the Royal Bhutan Army, police, de-suup, and project Dantak workers were involved in the search. However, no bodies were recovered as of noon yesterday when the search operation was stopped.
It was learnt that the search was stopped given the risk from the continuously falling debris from the remains of the bridge above. Sources said that the search would continue today by deploying excavators.
Some of the workers at the site Kuensel spoke to said that the missing bodies were likely buried under the broken concrete slabs. “Most of the concrete slabs have fallen on the other side of the river and we cannot cross the river,” said a worker.
He said that the three bodies recovered on the first night were from Damchu-side of the river. “We could find them because parts of their bodies were visible and we didn’t have to cross the river. The other six should be under the concrete slabs because we have explored almost all parts of the river banks.”
The bridge, if completed, could reduce the travel time between Haa and Phuentsholing by about 29km and about two hours.