Three people, including a mother and son, died at the bottom of a well in Kratie province on Saturday after trying to save a drowning dog, marking the second such incident in little more than a month.
Men Bun Theoun, Prek Prasab district police chief, told the Post that the incident happened after a beloved pet fell down the 10-metre-deep shaft, leading its 25-year-old owner Say Phal to go after it in a desperate bid to save its life.
When Phal failed to surface from the well, his mother, 64-year-old Van Soy, and neighbour, 37-year-old Chhorn Chhum, followed.
“The first person who died was the owner of the dog. He climbed into the well using a rope to help the dog, but he did not come back. That caused the second person, who was his neighbour, to go into the well to help the first man but he did not come back either,” Bun Theoun said.
Finally, Soy made the fatal descent into the well in hope of saving the men and the dog.
“All three of them and the dog died . . . and we concluded that the victims died because of a lack of oxygen at the bottom of the well,” Bun Theoun said.
According to scientists, at oxygen levels between 4 and 6 per cent, humans fall into a coma within 40 seconds, followed by convulsions before respiration ceases. Oxygen levels above ground are normally about 21 per cent.
Bun Theoun said a lack of knowledge about the risks posed beneath the surface caused Saturday’s tragedy.
“The victims were not aware of the dangers of the well; that’s what caused this to happen,” he said.
Following the incident, villagers spent more than an hour hoisting the bodies to ground-level, Bun Theoun said, adding that the fate of the well was now uncertain.
“The water in the well is used every day, but we covered it up so people would stop using it. I do not know yet if it will be destroyed or if they will keep it.”
Suom Sokhim, a Kratie provincial police officer, said that authorities regularly disseminate information to locals about how to stay safe when using wells.
“We have to remember that in the deep well, there is a lack of the oxygen,” he said, adding that he believed the incident could have been avoided. “They could have used a sieve, plastic bag or basket with rope tied around it to put into the well in order to allow the dog to hang on to it. Their lives were too short,” he said.
Last month, seven people, including four children, died at the bottom of a well in Siem Reap province after the father of a poor family dropped 3,000 riel ($0.75) and a cigarette lighter into the 5-metre-deep shaft, leading the others to follow.
As with Saturday’s fatalities, police and health officials attributed the deaths to a low level of oxygen in the well shaft.