The bloated body of a “treasure hunter” was retrieved at about 7 last night as search operations continued for his two companions who were trapped in a tunnel after the ground collapsed Wednesday in Purok 4, Barangay Boloc-boloc in Sibulan town, Negros Oriental.
He was identified as Algie Javier, 29, a former overseas Filipino worker, who reportedly owned the gold detector used in the alleged treasure hunt and a resident of Barangay Isugan in nearby Bacong town.
The two other missing persons were identified by their next of kin as Feliciano Encilay Sr., 62, an employee of the Provincial Veterinary Office, who is due for retirement and a resident of Cervantes Street in Dumaguete City, and a certain Bobby Baldado of Palinpinon in the adjacent municipality of Valencia.
They were believed to be in search of gold and diamonds, authorities said. A fourth member of the group, Mauro Alforque, 44, of Aldea Homes in Dumaguete, was rescued Wednesday. He told the police that he was designated as the “lightsman” of the group.
He witnessed his three companions, situated about eight feet away from him, being buried when clay and sand from above collapsed while they were trying to establish a support system for the tunnel before proceeding further inward, Alforque said.
Alforque said his body was half-buried by the rubble but fortunately, he was able to free himself, and left behind the three, whom he believed were already dead.
Sibulan Councilor Jon Rey Abada, designated public information officer at the scene of incident, said they received the call-out at around 11:40 a.m. Wednesday, and the Sibulan Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the police, and other search-and-rescue (SAR) groups proceeded to the scene.
The rescue operation was called off at midnight Wednesday due to the high risk posed by the water in the tunnel, he said.
Retrieval operation continued yesterday with heavy equipment digging close to where the men were believed to have been buried, Abada added.
“Based on the measurements made yesterday during the rescue operations, the tunnel is about 35 feet deep and about 13.5 meters horizontal-wise,” he said.
Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe Antonio Remollo also dispatched a payloader, two backhoes, and a dump truck, to help in the operation.
Bureau of Fire Protection rescuers, headed by Supt. Mary Joy Candelario, were able to penetrate the ground underneath but could not go any further because of a body of water between them and the area where the tunnel had collapsed.
Abada said submersible pumps were brought in to draw out the water, but in the end, they decided to dig from the opposite side, making estimates above ground, based on the horizontal measurements of the tunnel.
Sibulan Mayor Jose Pepe Abierra supervised the retrieval operation early yesterday morning, with his DRMMC, headed by Josephine Barraquias, as the incident command center commander.
Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council executive officer Adrian Sedillo also assisted in planning the retrieval operation.
Meanwhile, initial investigation showed that the lot where the excavation originated was bought by a certain Christine Singh from RamonIso sometime in May last year.
For more than six months, digging continued vertically before proceeding northward horizontally.
At ground level, it appears the tunnel has reached the other side of the road, prompting rescuers to negotiate with the lot owner of C & L Enterprises to allow them to dig from there.
The families of those in the tunnel disaster are hoping that the men could be found and retrieved.*
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