The man who made the first attempt to get the 10-year-old boy out of the 35-meter-deep bridge pillar in southern Vietnam last week is still haunted by the tragedy.
“It’s been a week now and every time I go to the site I hear him screaming for help in my head,” Doan Tuan Em, 34, a worker at the Roc Sen Bridge construction site in Dong Thap Province, says.
He cannot sleep at night.
On the last day of 2022, as Em and other workers were about to have lunch at a makeshift tent, three kids from the neighborhood ran up to them “with blood drained from their faces,” he recalls.
“A boy fell into the hole, please help him,” a girl in the group told them.
Em and the others rushed to the spot. They heard Thai Ly Hao Nam’s cries for help: “Please pull me up!”
“Where are you?,” Em screamed and the boy screamed back from the hollow concrete pile, which had been driven to a depth of 35 m below ground.
Em recalls panicking at the moment, sweating profusely and his heart beating very fast. He could not imagine how a boy could drop into a pillar that was just 25cm across.
Doan Tuan Em recalls the moment he came to save Thai Ly Hao Nam on January 6, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai
The workers found a rope and asked for two oxygen tanks to be brought.
They cut off a rope tied to a boat and brought it over and dropped it into the pillar.
“Hold the rope and we will pull you up!” another worker shouted to little Nam.
As they took up the slack the rope felt heavy, and they knew that Nam had clung to it.
They started pulling.
But when they hauled it up by around a meter, it suddenly went very light and Nam screamed at the same time.
The workers were stunned, and no one said anything, but everyone knew the boy had fallen deeper into the pile.
A kilometer away from the construction site, Thai Van Tan Tai, 40, learned about his son’s accident after finishing work on a farm.
At first he was confused and thought the boy might have fallen into the drainage system of a nearby fish pond. He even rushed to the pond but found no one there.
When Tai finally arrived at the bridge construction site, the workers were lengthening the rope.
As he called out to Nam, he heard him scream once “Daddy save me!”
He told the boy to grasp the rope tight, but the only response was an unidentifiable gurgling sound as if he was drowning in water. Tai instantly feared the worst.
An aerial view of the site where 10-year-old Thai Ly Hao Nam fell into 35-meter-deep pillar. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai
Local police then brought more oxygen tanks to the spot.
“When we shined the flashlight into the pillar we could not see anything and there was no response from the boy,” Captain Nguyen Phuong Hong recalls.
Since the moment Em first heard Nam scream for help, 10 minutes had elapsed.
Police and rescuers then tied a torch to an oxygen canister and dropped them down in the hope Nam would see the light and grab the oxygen and remain alive. But they got no indication he did.
On the evening of January 4 Nam was pronounced dead.
Dong Thap deputy chairman Doan Tan Buu says a team of medical and forensic experts and local authorities concluded the boy had died based on the site of the accident, the depth of the pillar, the length of time the rescue attempt had gone on, and possible injuries he had suffered.
Nam and three of his neighbors went to the bridge construction site to gather pieces of scrap iron to sell for money.
The boy, who weighed merely 20kg, was walking around when he fell into the pile.
Police and rescuers coordinated with Military Zone 9 and others and used specialized equipment to try and dig up the entire pillar, but in vain.
The local government said the rescue effort was difficult and prolonged due to the lack of experience and limited equipment and human resources.
On Thursday a group of Japanese experts arrived at the site to help pull out the pillar, but had made no progress as of Saturday morning.
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