The work supervisor climbs into a tank to save one of his colleagues.
Hero boss dies rescuing his men
ABU DHABI // A work supervisor was hailed as a hero yesterday after he lost his life saving colleagues in a tragic accident on a building site.
Padmanabhan Nair, 40, from Kerala, collapsed at the bottom of an empty water tank after he and two other men climbed down to find out why a worker was not responding to calls.
All four men passed out. The three other workers survived the incident at the site on Muroor Road in Abu Dhabi, but the supervisor died.
It is unclear what caused the men to lose consciousness in the tank, 11 metres below ground, but an investigation is under way to see if a build-up of poisonous gas was to blame.
"We don't know what caused the death, whether it is due to lack of air or something else," said Ayman Ali, project manager at the site. "The matter is now with the police."
According to an accident report obtained from the contracting company, Asqalan, the incident took place at 10.30am on December 13 after a worker, Jusim Khora, entered the tank to carry out waterproofing.
Mr Nair, his supervisor, called to Mr Khora from the top of the tank to ensure everything was going to plan.
When Mr Khora failed to respond, Mr Nair quickly summoned two other workers - Surendran Amma Sujith and Dilroy Khan - to climb down into the tank with him and rescue Mr Khora.
Mr Nair and Mr Sujith collapsed almost immediately after reaching the bottom of the tank, while Mr Khan climbed quickly to the top and collapsed when he reached ground.
Mr Khan, 25, an electrician, said Mr Nair and Mr Sujith collapsed in front of him.
"I got scared when I saw both of them falling unconscious in front of me. I did not waste a second and escaped from the place," he said. "It was too frightening."
According to the accident report, rescue police were called to pull the other three men from the tank.
A project engineer at the site said he was working upstairs when he heard about the accident.
"I rushed down and saw some people were being taken into the ambulance," he said. "There was a big commotion with a lot of people around."
Mr Sujith and Mr Khora are being treated in an Abu Dhabi hospital, while Mr Khan was released after a day of treatment.
He said he felt lucky to be alive.
"If I had stayed in the tank for longer, I would have been dead. As soon as I felt dizzy and struggling for breath I got out of the tank to escape," he said. "By God's grace I am doing fine."
Mr Nair died while trying to save his colleagues, Mr Khan said.
"He went inside to pull them out, but unfortunately he died while trying to save the two."
The supervisor, who had worked with Asqalan since 1997, is survived by a wife and two children, age 2 and 6, in India.
V V Rajan, a sales manager for a food company in Dubai, was a childhood friend of Mr Nair and saw him once every two weeks.
"He used to drive from Abu Dhabi to meet me," Mr Rajan said. "While three of them are alive and are doing well, my friend lost his life in a tragic way. I am yet to believe he is gone. I've lost a good friend."
Mr Rajan said they had not wanted to tell Mr Nair's wife, who is ill, the truth about her husband.
"We told her that he met with an accident at the site and is in the ICU," he said. "But with so many people coming to the house to express their condolences, she guessed something more serious had happened and was hospitalised due to shock."
Lathesh Nair, a relative, said Mr Nair's body was still at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
"We are in the process of finishing paper work to get the body and send it to India," he said.
The correct procedure for entering an underground tank is to use fans and pressurised air, and to wait two to three hours before entering the tank to test air quality before starting work, the accident report said.
"All the workers are in a state of shock over the accident," said Mr Ali. "Padmanabhan was a good person. He got down in the tank to help other men. It is sad that he lost his life."
Abdulaziz Zurub, the head of health and safety at Abu Dhabi Municipality, said he did not yet have details about the accident.
But Mr Zurub said the municipality would launch an investigation when it received more information.
* With additional reporting by Jen Thomas