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Accident on construction site in Bonn: Buried workers freed after elaborate rescue

Accident on construction site in Bonn : Buried workers freed after elaborate rescue

A concrete canopy has fallen during demolition work in Bonn on the former Zurich site and buried two people under it. After an elaborate rescue, the second injured person was also freed in the afternoon and taken to a hospital.

For four hours, the 52-year-old construction worker lay under rubble. Legs pinned, fully conscious. Knowing that only the Bonn fire department could get him out of the excavation pit. The rescuers worked for four hours in a confined space, with the constant danger that further concrete parts could slip off. In the end, the firefighters brought the severely injured 52-year-old to safety, as well as his colleague (29), whose arms were trapped.

By careful cuts with a saw a canopy of concrete weighing tons should have been removed on Tuesday morning at the former Zurich area at the Bonner valley. But the construction was apparently more fragile than expected. As three workers stood one floor below, in the former basement of the hotel, the slabs suddenly crashed five meters into the depths. While one man was still able to dodge and made it out of the pit on his own in shock, two workers were trapped under the concrete.

"This was a range of equipment such as we have rarely used at the same time," said Heiko Basten of the Bonn Fire Department. A whole container full of special equipment, which is hardly ever needed in everyday business, was brought to the scene. In addition came a heavy-duty crane from the Baumann company in Bonn, around 70 emergency personnel from the professional and volunteer fire departments, aid organizations, the rescue service, as well as a construction consultant from the technical aid organization and accident surgeons.

Everything had to proceed slowly, and particularly gently because of the injured. "Although the men were trapped, they were responsive and awake the entire time, and their condition was stable," says Basten. The aim was to prevent the medical situation from deteriorating through rapid rescue measures. After about two hours, the younger of the two, a 29-year-old, was freed. After being lifted to the first floor with the turntable ladder and a stretcher, he was able to go to the ambulance on his own with the helpers.

"We ran the risk of other pieces sliding in and injuring him worse"

But the 52-year-old was still in the pit, his legs stuck so awkwardly that the route taken with the younger one didn't work. "We ran the risk of other pieces sliding in and injuring him worse." But how do you get concrete parts weighing tons lifted gently and safely from a small pit, with room for only a few men? Using lifting bags designed to luff streetcars, for example, and hydraulic lifting cylinders, they pushed the rubble up millimeter by millimeter. At the same time, an excavator pulled at them from the demolition edge. With success, at last the legs were free, and the 52-year-old could be brought to safety. Both men were eventually taken to the University Hospital in Bonn.

While the rescue work was still underway, the Office for Occupational Safety and Health and the police had begun an investigation. According to them, it is still unclear how exactly the accident could have happened. The police investigates according to its own data because of the suspicion of the building endangering others.

On the former Deutsche Herold site near Poppelsdorfer Allee, which was last used by Zurich Insurance, around 150 new apartments will be built in the next few years. The nearly 25,000-square-meter site is divided into three construction fields, according to a spokeswoman for Swiss Life Asset Managers, which is working on behalf of developer Corpus Sireo. "Demolition and new construction are happening simultaneously on this large construction project." Works will not continue at the area at the Deutscher Herold building where the accident happened for the time being, she said. "How long, we don't know. It's also secondary from our point of view for now. We hope that the workers will recover.“

In February last year, there had last been a serious accident on a construction site in Bonn. At the high-rise building on Neuer Bundeskanzlerplatz, a wooden retaining wall weighing around 500 kilograms had toppled over in the excavation pit and buried a 27-year-old man. When the fire department arrived, colleagues had already pulled the slightly injured man out from under the structure.

Original text: Nicolas Ottersbach

Translation: Mareike Graepel