Deep passage: Rescuers near the opening of the tunnel that goes 20m underground.
MIRI: It was an expedition that went horribly wrong for five Lawas locals when they found themselves trapped in a 20m-deep tunnel filled with harmful gas, leaving two dead.
The tragedy occurred around 11am yesterday on a hill overlooking Kampung Mengkalap and Kampung Lintang Baru, at the Trusan sub-district near the Sarawak-Brunei border.
Brothers Rout and Gerawat Singga, both in their 50s. were found dead inside the tunnel while Wat Gali, who is in his 40s, Fendi Ejon, 17, and Anwar Abdullah, 18, were rushed to Lawas Hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit.
As at press time, the three were reported to be in stable condition. Trusan is under the Lawas district within the Limbang Division.
Limbang Fire and Rescue Department chief Annuar Shahrizad confirmed the incident, adding that they were still investigating the case.
“The five entered the steep tunnel equipped with excavating tools and a mobile pump powered by a generator,” he said.
According to Annuar, a distress call was received at 10.53am yesterday from a relative of the Singga brothers.
“My department despatched 15 men to the scene. We found that there was a very deep underground tunnel dug from the top of the hill. Inside, all five were unconscious.
“There was a heavy toxic smell inside the tunnel,” he said, adding that initial investigation showed that the pump was used to drain the water out.
“We suspect that the pump produced and emitted harmful gas, probably carbon monoxide, into the tunnel.
“We believe all five victims collapsed after breathing in the fumes.”
Asked if there were others still inside the tunnel, Annuar said his men did not find any trace of other diggers.
Lawas SPDP chief Datuk Nelson Balang Rining said he had heard disturbing news about treasure hunters in the area.
“The treasure hunters believe that there could be prized relics buried around the area.
“This is a very risky undertaking – digging for treasure in such ecologically sensitive sites without the knowledge of authorities.
“I have even been told that there are those who use bomoh to help locate the treasures,” he said, expressing his shock over the Trusan incident.