Inquiry into the Pontoon Bridge Accident 14 June 1962
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Title: Inquiry into the Pontoon Bridge Accident 14 June 1962
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Tillett, H. M.
Publisher: Commission of Inquiry into the Pontoon Bridge Incident, Belize
Place of Publication: Belize
Publication Date: October 13, 1962
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System ID: UF00099196:00001

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Full Text
Inquiry Into The Pontoon
Bridge Accident
14th June, 1962




Militia Hall,
Belize,
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
British Honduras.


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

conclusions.

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




-2-


the form as exhibited herein at Appendix I. The Notices were duly

published.

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




for such traffic."

10. The Contract says nothing of any precautions which

were to be taken by Milan to exclude pedestrians from using the

temporary bridge,

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.


/We




- 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-

stop them.

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




5


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

occasion,

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

... morning




-7-


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

out,

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




8

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




-9-


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

Commissioners.

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

.o. orders




10 -
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

itself.

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 )
Chairman )
)
)

A.S. BURN
Member ) Commissioners
)


W.A. JOHESTON )
Member




.LPEPDIX I


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

June, 1962.


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.





(H.M. TILLETT)
Secretary to the Commission
4th July, 1962.




APPENDIX II


WITNESSES WHO GAVE EVIDENCE BEFORE THE CQMI:SSION


Occupation


Lddress


(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


(20)

(21)


Gilford Major

Charles Neal


President, Milan Construction Co.

Construction Superintendent
Milan Construction Co.

Police Constable

Domestic

Foreman, Milan Construction Co.

Carpenter

Domestic

Mechanic

Carpenter

Musician


Storekeeper


Messenger


Mercantile Clerk

Police Constable

Shipwright


Commissioner of Police

Inspector of Police

Principal Secretary, Ministry
of Public Works, Power and
Communications

Minister of Public Works,
Power and Communications

Labourer

Stevedore


Belize


Belize

Police Static.

Belize

Belize

11 Guadalre St

122 West Eb.

11 Card's Uley

19 Castle At.

Cor. George &
Prince Streets

121 Euphrates
Avenue

Simmons Alley,
gilbert Street

76 West Street

Police Station

Cor. Woods &
Vernon Streets

Belize

Belize



Belize


Belize

Hattieville

25 George Strujt


Name




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