Six villagers died at the bottom of a well in Kompong Cham province on Saturday after inhaling fumes from a diesel-powered mechanical pump they were trying to install, local officials said.
“It is an accidental disaster, not an intentional killing,” Pak Cheat, Kompong Siem district police chief, said yesterday.
After examining the corpses, which were lifted using a hammock from the well in Trean commune soon after the incident, district police officers determined the likely cause of death came both from the inhalation of the fumes and from sinking into the well, according to Mr Cheat.
The deceased villagers had been trying to remove contaminated water from the water supply, which villagers did yearly. However until now they had always used buckets, according to commune chief Men Sarun.
“This is the first time for them to pump water from the well by using the pump machine,” Mr Sarun said, adding that an hour passed between the first and the final death.
The first villager to die descended alone to the water line, which is roughly two meters below the top of the 9-meter well, according to Mr Sarun. There he fixed the pump to the wall and started the machine, only to succumb to the exhaust fumes.
Two more villagers followed to stop the pump, Mr Sarun explained. They were successful but afterward they too fainted and fell into the water.
Then followed two more villagers who went one at a time to see what had happened. Each failed to return.
The sixth and final villager to descend called out before he fell unconscious to warn anyone else from following, which stopped a seventh man who was ready to lower himself into the well.
“Due to these deaths caused by the old well, many of the villagers who currently use water from the well will never use it anymore,” said Mr Sarun.
About 70 meters away there is a pump well that villagers can use, he added.