Three treasure hunters found disaster rather than gold when a tunnel they were exploring collapsed and trapped them inside on Wednesday. Search and rescue operations are currently underway for the victims who remain buried in the 50 feet deep tunnel in Purok 4, Barangay Boloc-boloc, Sibulan, Negros Oriental.
The victims have been identified as Algie Javier, 29, a former OFW and reported owner of a gold detector the treasure hunters were using; Feliciano Encilay Sr., 62, an employee of the provincial veterinary clinic due for retirement; and Bobby Baldado, a resident of Palinpinon in the adjacent municipality of Valencia. A fourth companion, Mauro Alforque, 44, managed to escape as the tunnel was collapsing. Alforque told police that he was the designated “lightsman” of the group. The four are believed to have been searching for gold and diamonds.
Designated Public Information Officer (PIO) at the scene of the incident Councilor Jon Rey Abada said that retrieval operations using heavy equipment continue. Digging is being done close to where the three are believed to have been buried.
“Based sa measurements nga gihimo gahapon sa rescue operations, ang tunnel mga 35 feet deep ug naa sa mga 13.5 meters horizontal (Based on the measurements done yesterday during the rescue operations, the tunnel measures about 35 feet deep with about 13.5 meters horizontal-wise),” said Abada.
According to Abada, the city government received the call out at 11:40 a.m. on the day of the accident, which prompted the Sibulan Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (DRRMC), the police, and Search-and-Rescue (SAR) groups to spring into action and proceed to the scene of the incident.
Rescue operations had to be called off at midnight as water in the tunnel posed to high a risk. Rescuers from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) were reportedly able to penetrate the ground underneath, but found a body of water in the area between them and the space where the victims are suspected to be.
The Dumaguete City government has also mobilized its disaster risk reduction office for the excavation. Two backhoes, a loader and a dump truck have been deployed to the site for the rescue operations. An initial investigation revealed that the tunnel collapse covered the over side of the road.
Councilor Abada said that rescue operations continue, though the chances of survival are “slim”, based on an assessment made by a doctor on the time spent underground and other conditions facing the lost men.
“Mao gani niabot na pod ang Mines and GeoSciences Bureau ug nisulti nga mostly pag ingun ani nga incident, lisod nga mabuhi (The Mines and Geosciences Bureau personnel have also already arrived and have said in instances like this, chances of survival are slim) although we cannot really conclude (kay usahay naa man pod mu survive) as sometimes some people do make it out alive,” added Abada.