DAVAO CITY – Responders have still yet to recover the bodies of four gold hunters, who were buried inside a 96-foot vertical tunnel in a private property in Barangay Kinamayan, Sto. Tomas town, Davao del Norte on the second day of the search and retrieval operations on Monday.
Sto. Tomas Municipal information officer Mart Sambalud said that the responders resumed their operations on Tuesday morning, starting with the construction of a structural support in both sides of the nearby excavated area through which they would attempt to enter the tunnel that caved in on Sunday morning.
He said that the municipal government excavated the area close to the tunnel because it would be unsafe for the responders to retrieve the bodies through the tunnel’s main entrance.
He said Mayor Ernesto Evangelista has brought in resources, including pieces of timber to build the proposed structure called “shoring,” which would support the two residential structures to avoid collapse during excavation.
“One of the major developments as discussed by the composite team of the Incident Command System is the temporary construction of a structure support in both sides of the excavated area where it can support the areas laterally,” Sambalud said.
The trapped victims were identified as Gerick Marquez, 23, Dindo Pañares and Rustom Rancho, both 18 years old, and the 17-year-old minor.
Another treasure hunter Ho Ang managed to climb out of the tunnel after it collapsed for a second time at 10 a.m. He said the timbers supporting the tunnel gave in.
Sambalud said that authorities learned that the financier of the alleged treasure hunting was a relative of Hernan Castañares, the owner of the property where the tunnel was found.
He said that neighbors of the property owner claimed that the expedition began three days before the incident.
He added that the local government was looking at filing complaints against those behind the treasure hunting activity.
He said digging of the tunnel began in March this year, but it was halted in April when neighbors complained.
He said the digging was illegal because it had no permits.
“It was assessed that the tunnel was for treasure hunting because of the narrowness of the tunnel and sandbags. There is no other conclusion. This is not a water drilling or water refilling station,” he added.
He said that the municipal government was alerted about the incident around 1 p.m. on Sunday only after the rescue attempts conducted by the officials of Barangay Kinamayan turned futile.
He said that a specialized rescue unit was immediately convened to rescue the victims, which mobilized responders from various government agencies.