BAU : The tunnel inside Mount Tabai in Taiton here is the final resting place of gold prospector Lee Sze Chun after a series of rock collapses yesterday made it impossible for the rescue operation t o continue.
The operation was officially called off at 4pm when the threat of a total collapse of the tunnel walls and ceiling forced rescuers comprising firemen and local volunteers to abandon plans to recover Lee’s remains for fear of being buried alive inside the 10 metre-deep shaft.
District police chief DSP Mohd Sabri Zainol, who apologised to the victim’s family on behalf of the rescuers for being unable to retrieve the body, said the high probability of a total collapse meant it was impossible for rescuers to proceed as it would endanger their own lives.
“The rescuers gave it their all to the point where a number of equipment belonging to the Fire and Rescue Department were lost inside the tunnel when part of the roof caved in.
“Let this tragic incident be a lesson to everyone to stay away from this area and not to risk their lives in the pursuit of easy money. We hope this is the last death to occur in this mountain,” he said.
Body cannot be recovered despite two-day operation the victim’s family, including his wife, have accepted the fact that Lee’s body could not be recovered despite the two-day-long operation involving nearly 100 police personnel, firemen and local villagers.
Lee’s wife, who was present throughout the operation, initially remained hopeful that her husband’s body could be retrieved but broke down upon learning the operation had been halted, and had to be consoled by family members and relatives.
A local volunteer, Tapa Monya, 60, said rescuers were able to walk into the tunnel to where Lee’s body was located during the first day of the operation.
He said that a series of rock collapses from Wednesday night to early yesterday morning resulted in them being barely able to crawl in or out. Each attempt to chisel, break or shift the boulder atop Lee’s remains caused further cracks in the tunnel walls resulting in the ceiling to collapse.
By 3pm, Lee’s family were informed that it was impossible to remove his body in its entirety, leading them to give their consent to the rescuers to use rope to pull whatever they could from underneath the large boulder.
However, when attempts to pull out Lee’s torso and leg triggered another round of rock collapse which landed directly on top of his body, the family was left with no other option but to make the tunnel his final resting place.
The incident happened around 2.30am on Wednesday when the 33-year-old Lee and several men were mining for gold inside a tunnel at Mount Tabai.
A large boulder the size of a Perodua Kancil car fell on top of him and killed him on the spot, prompting the others inside the tunnel to lodge a report of the incident.
On a related matter yesterday, police personnel patrolling a jungle footpath leading to the top of the mountain stumbled upon roughly 30 sacks of gold-rich earth, which had been mined by unknown individuals.
The sacks, each weighing about 8kg, were found stashed in a bush and were subsequently seized and sent to district police headquarters for further investigation.