Inquiry Into The Pontoon
14th June, 1962
13th October, 1962.
To: His Excellency Sir PETER Y LA GAWNE
STA LLRD, Knight Commander of the
Most Distinguished Order of Saint
Michael and Saint George, Commander
of the Royal Victorian Order, Member
of the Most Excellent Order of the
British Empire, Governor and
Commander-in-Chief in and over
MAY IT PLEASE YOUR EXCELLENCY
Your Excollencyts Commission, bearing date 26th
June, 1962, appointed us Commissioners with the following
Terms of Reference:-
"To make a full faithful and impartial inquiry
into and report upon the circumstances of the accident
at the temporary pontoon bridge being erected over the
Belize River in which accident seven persons lost their
lives on the 14th day of June, 1962 ......"
and to make report of the result of the inquiry furnishing a
statement of our proceedings and of the reason leading to our
We now submit to Your Excellency the following Report:
1. Your Excellencyls Commission appointing to be
Commissioners was issued by virtue of the power and authority
vested in Your Excellency by Section 2 of the Coimmissions of
Inquiry Ordinance, Chapter 14 of the Laws of British Honduras
Revised Edition 1958 and was signed on the 2Gth June 1962 and
was published in Gazette Extraordinary of the same date as
Statutory Instrument No. 55 of 1962.
2. On the 30th June and the 2nd July we subscribed
before you the oaths as required by the said Ordinance and they
were duly deposited with the Acting Chief Secretary.
3. We held our first meeting shortly after and authorized
the Secretary to publish in the press and on the radio Notices in
.. the. form
the form as exhibited herein at Appendix I. The Notices were duly
4. The Commission accordingly held meetings at the
Militia Hall at Fort George in Belize on the 11th, 15th, 18th
and 20th July, 1962.
5. Twenty-one persons as set cut in Appendix II then
successively took the oeth and gave evidence before us.
8. Mr. C.A.B. Ross, the Acting Crown Counsel of the
Attorney General's Department, kindly conducted the examination
in chief of the witnesses.
7. At the meeting on the 20th July the hearings were
adjourned sine die and the Commissioners then visited the site
of the temporary pontoon bridge where the accident had occurred.
8. Before examining the evidence of this matter in
detail we will state some of the background to the accident.
9. By written contract dated 17th day of Junc, 1962,
between the Milan Construction Company Limited (hereinafter called
"Milan") and Albort Edward Cattouse, Minister of Public Works,
Power and Commnnications acting for and on behalf of the Government
of British Honduras Milan agreed to do some repairs and overhaul
to the Belize Swing Bridge and to erect a temporary bridge across
the river at a point three hundred yards upstream from the Swing
Bridge. The temporary bridge was to be erected by using two barges
each 20 feet by 70 feet with a ramp approach to the shore on each
side. The contract dous not mention it but the construction of
this temporary bridge was to serve for the crossing of vehicular
traffic from one side of the river to the other during the repair
of the Swing Bridge; it was not intended to carry pedestrian traffic
and indeed in a letter dated 51st May 1962 from the Principal
Secretary, Ministry of Public Works, Power and Conmunications,
to Mr. Milan it is stated inter alia:
"It is further understood that the existing Swing Bridge
will be available for pedestrian and bicycle traffic throughout
the period of repairs as the temporary bridge will not be suitable
for such traffic."
10. The Contract says nothing of any precautions which
were to be taken by Milan to exclude pedestrians from using the
11. The temporary pontoon bridge was erected across the
river between the end of Pickstock Street on the north side and
Richard Sidewalk or the south side. Wooden ramp approaches were
built on each bank of the river and one end of each barge was
secured on the bank next to the ramp and the other ends of the
barges placed together in mid-stream of the river. The barge
at Richard Sidewalk end was fixed permanently into position and
was not intended to swing away for river traffic to pass. The
barge on the Pickstock Street side was arranged so that the end
in mid-stream of the river could bu swung b-ock to thu -ivur side
along Pickstock Street to allow boats to pass. Thure was a space
between the end of the barges in mid-stream. This enabled this
portion of the river to be used by small boats going up and down
the river without having to disturb the barges. Over this space
a movable apron 10 foot 2 aicheop ide by 12 feet long was
constructed. One end was secured to the barge on the Richard
Sidewalk side and the other end projected over the -ater and
rested on the mid-stream end of the Pickstock Stroot barge.
The idea was that when the Pickstock Street barge had to be
swung out of the wayy, the end of the apron wc.s lifted about
six inches off the barge and left suspended in mid-air and
supported by cables and eyebolts. This arrangement was never
intended to support more than the weight of the .rron projecting
over the water when the Pickstock Street barge was swung away.
Before the apron was constructed the workmen used to cross from
one barge to another on two planks of x 12 timbers resting on
the ends of the barges. It was while the apron w;as being
constructed and not yet bolted and set in position that the accident
under investigation occurred.
- 4 -
12. We now turn to the actual evidence. Construction on
the pontoon bridge according to thb evidence started on or about
the 16th or 17th of May, 1962, and as early as the 17th of May Mr.
Milan saw some young boys swimming in the river and climbing on
to the barges and this disturbed his workmen. A day or two after
he saw two ladies using the pontoon bridge to cross the river
and walking on the 2 x 12 planks between the two barges. He spoke
to them and told them it was dangerous. Later that day he
complained to Mr. Cattouso, the Minister of Public Works, Power
and Communications and i~r. Gill, Principal Secretary to the
Ministry. ,,s a result Mr. Cattouse and Mr. Gill in the company
of Inspector Brown and Commiasioner of Police Taylor visited the
site. They agreed that thispractice was dangerous and the Police
decided to put a constable on duty to stop the pedestrian crossing.
After a constable was posted at the pontoon bridge the number of
people using the bridge to cross diminished, but many still
continued to use it and argued with the Police when he tried to-
13. A barricade made out of 2 x 4 timbers fixed at a
height of four feet from the ground was placed at the entrance
of the ramp on the Pickstock Street side. People were still
able to pass under this barricade or around the end of it, and in
fact, did so. On the night of the 29th or 30th May, Milan's
watchman reported that some men broke down the barricade and threw
the lumber into the river. This was reported by Milan's workmen
to Assistant Superintendent of Police Fuller who suggested that
it be reported to the Police Department. The following day Mr.
Milan reported it to Mr. Cattouse and Mr. Gill and it appears
that Mr. Cattouse and Mr. Gill in company of the Police again
visited the site, While there, they discussed the problem of
people crossing and many other matters concerning the bridge
such as, handrails, traffic movements and signal lights.
Apparently, there were no written notices or signs advising people
.. that the
that the pontoon bridge was not to be used by ntrians,
put up in the vicinity of the pontoon bridge However, the
Police increased their patrols with the object of keeping the
people from crossing the bridge and from annoyin g workmen.
14. Police patrols wele by no means continuous regular.
Police on other duties wore instructed to give an, eye at the
tcrapornry pontoon bridge, one set of pclice;nn to deal .rith
traffic and another set to deal with pedestrians crossing.
It:.nust, however, be borne in mind that the barges were not
always connected across the river. At nights they were swung
apart, so there was no possibility of pedestrians crossing;
and they were also swung part several times during the day.
The Police were therefore instructed that when the barges
were apart there was no need for them to be at the site. But
the evidence disclosed that there wore many tines when the
barges were connected and pedestrians crossing fro: one side
to the other, no police patrols were at the bridge. The
Commissioner of Police explained thl.t the main object of
establishing these patrols was to prevent interference with
the workmen by pedestrians using the pontoon bridge. The
Commissioner of Police also explained that owing to the acute
shortage of men at Central Station it was impossible to post a
constable conti~unlly on the bridge, but his orders were that
the constable in that area should concentrate on his normal
beat duties and keep an eye on the bridge.
15. With regard to the barricades, at the Pickstock
Street side it seems that there was some kind of barricade;
it was movable and ranyi ties was not in place at all. It the
Richard Sidewalk side it is doubtful whether there was ever a
barricade there at any time before the accident. Those
witnesses who said there
... was a
was a barricade there differed as to its construction. Some said
it consisted of pieces of lumntr lying on saw bench or
carpenter' s horse on the barge itself; others said the pieces of
lumber were nailed to the handrails of the barge.
16. We formed the impression that whatever barricades
were there, if any, were very ineffective for the purpose of
preventing pedestrians from crossing the pontoon bridge. As a
result, pedestrians continued to cross the pontoon bridge from
time to time right down to the day of the tragedy, June 14th. As
a matter of fact, one witness said that he was able to ride from his
home in Richard Sidewalk right over the pontoon bridge, without
stopping or getting off his bicycle, to his work on the north side
of the town. Other witnesses mentioned that some workers from the
Belize Sawmill made free use of the pontoon bridge to cross to and
from the north side of the City.
17. We come now to the 14th June, the day of the tragedy,
Mr. Milan, the building contractor, was not in town. Between 10:00
and 10:30 the morning, the swing bridge was opened to allow some
barges to pass through up-stream. The evidence is that one of the
barges stuck at the swing bridge, and the bridge -.s not able to swing
back into position. The crowd on both sides of the swing bridge became
impatient after waiting for about 25 or 50 minutes an-d were not able
to cross because of the obstruction which kopt the swing bridge
opened, number of people on the south side of the swing bridge
decided to walk via R-gcnt Street Ucst to tichcard Sidewalk and to
cross the river by the pontoon bridge. Others at -he swing bridge
saw these people crossing on the pontoon bridge and they in turn
decided to go to the pontoon bridge to cross. It appears that there
were no barricades or policemen at the pontoon bridge on this
18, The workers on the pontoon bridge had instructions from the
City Council that whenever the swing bridge was opened they should
also open the pontoon bridge i.s the swing bridge had opened this
rmoring, they set about opening the pontoon bridge and in order to
do this they had to stop the pedestrians who were crossing .t the
time. The apron was lifted and the Pickstock Street barge started
to swing over to the Pickstock Street side. Wien the Pickstock
Strict barge swung away there were a few people stA.nding on the
apron which was now suspended over the centre of the river. The
people from the swing bridge continued to come via Zegent Street
West to the Richard Sidewalk side of the bridge and as the
crowd increased more people came on to the apron. These people
became restless and kept shouting to the workers to bring the barge
so that they might cross. Both the workers and the people in the
crowd kept shouting,at each other. The people wishing to cross
were clearly annoyed because they were not able to cross. However,
the workmen had their instructions and were merely carrying them
19. About this time, Mr. Smith, Milan Building Foreman, who was
at the swing bridge, saw the crowd on the apron of the pontoon bridge
and jumped on his bicycle and went via North Front Street to the
pontoon bridge and gave instructions for the Pickstock Street barge
to be swung back towards mid-stream. His reason for doing so was
that he was alarmed because of the danger to the people who were
standing on the apron which did not have the other barge to support
its weight in mid-stream. Ho therefore told his workmen to hurry
and swing the barge back to the apron which he said was holding too
much weight. While the Pickstock Street barge was coming towards
the apron to make connection with the other barge, the crQwd on
the Richard Sidewalk side surged on to the barge and the apron as
they jostled for first place to get across. One witness said that
he was pushed by the surge of the crowd from the barge on to the
apron. Before the Pickstock Street barge reached the apron, the
apron collapsed and the people who were on it, men, women, and
children, fell into the river. When this happened some of the
on-lookers apparently didn't take the matter seriously and started
to laugh. However, when it w obvious th.t scro uf the people
who fell into the water were in danger, a number of by-stenders jumped
into the river and rescued several of those who were not able to
help themselves. There were many instances of heroism, From the
evidence, special mention should be iado of Mr. Rudolph Leslie,
a musician living at the corner of George and Prince Streets, Mr.
hRdolph Ochoa, Police Constable, and Mr. Lesmore Smith, Milan
Building Foreman, who risked their lives to save others.
20. There was a conflict of evidence as to the number of
people who were standing on the apron at the time of the accident.
The number varies from 20 to 75.
21. Frcm the evidence before us, the apron itself was made of
wood. It was in the form of a platform about 10 foot 2 inches wide
by 12 feet long. One end was attached by hinges to the Richard
Sidwalk barge and the other end projected 10 feet over the end of
the barge and was intended to rest on the Pickstock Street barge.
In order to support thu portion projecting over th' end of the
barge, there were two columns about 10 foot high on the Richard
Sidewalk barge and thesu columns were attached to the barge by
steel wires, ey-bolts and turnbuckles on one side, and on the
other side were attached to the apron by steel wires, oyobolts and
turnbuckles. Those wires were only intended to hold the weight
of the apron when it was not resting on the mid-strean end of the
Pickstock Street barge.
22. On the morning of the accident the construction of this
apron was not completed. Mr. Smith gives this description of the
aprona It is attached to the barge with a cable and an oyebolt.
There is column on the stationary (Richard Sidewalk) barge, that
is, the barge that holds the apron. The apron overhangs the river
when the other barge was swung away. It overhangs the river about
10 feet. There is a cctll with an eye in this column and there is
a cable with an eye on the apron. There is an eycbolt on the
column and there is an eyebolt on the apron and a cable connects
the two eyebolts, The two eyes on the bolts supposed to be
closed by welding, but the welding had not yet been done.
23. The result was that the two eyes on the apron were torn
open or straightened out by the weight on the apron. This released
the cable and caused the apron to fall into the water. The cable
did not burst.
24. After the accident, Mr. Smith who had rescued several
people as mentioned above, got on the apron and floated with it
down the river. He tied it to the river bank down-stream, Later
that same day Mr. Ysaguirre, Construction Superintendent for Milan,
got permission from the Commissioner of Police to bring the apron
back to the barges. Mr. Ysaguirre inspected the wpron and confirmed
that the eyebolts were straightened out, and so did Inspector of
Police Brown. There were no photographs taken of thc apron or of the
eycbolts and the eyabolts were not .available for inspection by the
25. We now summarize the events loading up to the accident.
On the morning of June 14th, a barge stuck at the swing bridge while
it was passing through the bridge up river. This prevented the bridge
from closing and the bridge remained open for a much longer time than
was usual. As a result people became ira-atient to cross the river
and some thought of the pontoon bridge and used it. Others, seeing
a few crossing by the pontoon bridge, decided to make use of it
themselves. The workmen on the pontoon bridge had instructions
toopen the pontoon bridge whenever the swing bridge opened,
and on this morning, they stopped the trickle of pedestrian
traffic crossing the pontoon bridge and swung the pontoon bridge
open. After the pontoon bridge was opened, the people coming
from the swing bridge to Richard Sidewalk, in the hope of crossing
the river increased. They crowded on to the barge and the apron.
Mr. Smith, Milan's Building Foreman, saw this crowd on the apron
and became alarmed iie rushed to the pontoon bridge .nd gave
orders for the barge on the Pickstock Street side to be swung
back so that the portion of the apron projecting ov-r the water
could rest on it to support the crowd. While the barge from
Pickstock Street side was approaching the apron, the crowd on the
Richard Sidewalk side in their anxiety to get across, rushed on
to the apron, and the result was that there were more people on
the apron than the apron could support and tho apron collapsed.
26. It is likely that had Mr. Smith not ordered the barge on
the Pickstock Street side to be swung back to the centre of the
river, the accident might not have occurred, because the last minute
rush on to the apron might not have taken place. However, we wish
to make it very clear that we attach no blame to Mr. Smith; to the
contrary, we commend him for his foresight end efforts to forestall
the danger to the crowd on the apron.
27. It must be remembered too that the apron was still in the
course of construction and not yut properly fixed into position.
But even if the apron had beun completed there was still the danger
that it would have collapsed under this abnormal w eightt because it
was not intended to support any weight other than that of the apron
28. The route over which the temporary pontoon bridge was
placed had never been used before as a right of way and it had not
yet been declared open for any kind of traffic.
29. Many efforts had been made by the Police and the workman
of Milan to prevent people from using the bridge but despite these
efforts many persisted in using it. There was no evidence of any
arrest being made by the Police as a result of disobedience to
their orders and it appears that the Police themselves were uncertain
as to their rights of arrest in such cases. It is, however, clear
from the evidence of the remarks made by people using the pontoon
bridge that in several instances they were well aware that they wre
using the bridge at their own risk.
i 31 -
50. We have come to the firm conclusion that the cause
of the accident was the overloading of the apron by the rush
of the crowd on to the aoron before the Pickstock Street barge
was placed in position under the end of the apron. Had they
waited on the Richard Sidewalk barge, clear of the ::-pron, until
the Pickstock SLreot barge had been connected, the accident
would not have occurred.
51. The Commissioners wish to place on record their
appreciation of the valuable assistance given by many persons
in connection with this Inquiry. Ie ire grateful to the Acting
Chief Secretary, Mr. R.B. Cottrell, and Mr. C.F. Henville,
Attorney General, for their assistance prior to the hearings,
M. C.a.B. Roos, for his assistance at the hearings, Mr. H.M.
Tillett, the Secretary of the Commission, for the efficiency
with which he carried out his many tasks, Mrs. i-I.E. S-ldivar,
for her competent and willing work in taking the notes of
evidence at the hearings and the more difficult task of
transcribing them afterwards. We are also grateful to the
Commandant of the Volunteer Guard for allowing us to use the
Militia Hall for the hearings, the Registrar General for the
loan of a recording machine from the Supreme Court and Mr. Franz
Vasqucz for operating '-he machine throughout the hearings.
Finally we are much indebted to Miss C.A. Lawrence, who broke
her leave to assist us, for her valuable services in the
preparation of the Report.
E.W. FRII-TCIS )
Member ) Commissioners
W.A. JOHESTON )
COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO THE PONTOON BRIDGE ACCIDENT
WHERES His Excellency the Governor has appointed a
Commission of Inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Orcdinance
Chapter 14 of the Laws of British Honduras Revised Edition 1958
to enquire into the circumstances of the accident at the
temporary pontoon bridge while it was bing erected over the
Belize River between Pickstock Street and Richard Sidc:-alk and
in which accident seven persons lost their lives on the 14th
LIL persons able and willing to give material evidence touching
the subject of the Inquiry are invited to communicate immediately
with the Secretary to the Comm~ssioners at 1,iinistry of Public
Works, Paslow Building.
It is hereby notified for public information that meetings
of the Commission of Inquiry will be held at the iMilitia Hall1
Fort George Wednesday and Friday of each week from 10 a.m. to
12 noon and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The first meeting will be
held on Wednesday llth July, 1962.
Secretary to the Commission
4th July, 1962.
WITNESSES WHO GAVE EVIDENCE BEFORE THE CQMI:SSION
(1) Daniel Milan
(2) Franz Ysaguirre
(5) Rudolph Ochoa
(4) Violet Hum.es
(5) Lesmore Smith
(6) Robert Oliver
(7) Leonora Card
(8) Beresford Hall
(9) Harry Middleton
(10) Rudolph Leslie
(11) oRy Grant
(12) John Gibson
(13) Denfield Miranda
(14) Card, P.C. 376
(15) Grevel Bladan
(16) B.H. Taylor
(17) E. Brown
(18) D.R.B. Gill
(19) L.E. Cattouse
President, Milan Construction Co.
Milan Construction Co.
Foreman, Milan Construction Co.
Commissioner of Police
Inspector of Police
Principal Secretary, Ministry
of Public Works, Power and
Minister of Public Works,
Power and Communications
11 Guadalre St
122 West Eb.
11 Card's Uley
19 Castle At.
Cor. George &
76 West Street
Cor. Woods &
25 George Strujt