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Pension deaths traced to bad boiler installation

Jan 05,2019
The deaths of three high school students last month in a pension in Gangneung, Gangwon, were caused by an improperly installed boiler exhaust pipe.

The Gangwon Provincial Police Agency announced Friday that when the pension’s boiler was installed in 2014, the engineer responsible, surnamed Choi, used an exhaust pipe whose circumference did not fit the boiler.

Choi cut the pipe and forced it to fit, police said. The pipe eventually came loose because of the vibrations of the boiler, allowing carbon monoxide to spread through the pension.

The shaking of the boiler could have been detected with regular inspection and repaired, but the pension manager, surnamed Kim, didn’t have such inspections.

During police questioning, Kim admitted to not regularly checking the boiler rooms. A public corporation in charge of the gas safety in the area also failed to thoroughly examine and inspect the boiler.

Police said the vibrations would not have been a problem if the exhaust pipe was installed properly in the first place.

Investigation revealed that Choi was not a certified boiler engineer, and thus would not have known the consequences as an engineer would.

“Choi would not have known that if you cut a pipe, you needed to make sure that it was glued [to the boiler] with a band or heat-resistant silicon,” said a construction worker who has worked with Choi before.

“In addition, if you look at the boiler that was installed by Choi, the exhaust pipe and ventilation pipe are not properly connected. This would have caused smoke to collect in between the two pipes, which could have also caused the carbon monoxide leakage.”

The police, however, did not cite a faulty connection of the ventilation pipe to the exhaust pipe as a reason for the carbon monoxide leakage.

Police charged Choi and a gas service contractor in charge of supplying and safely managing the boiler with involuntary manslaughter and requested an arrest warrant for the two.

Police also booked seven other people deemed responsible - including the pension manager Kim and officials from Korea Gas Safety.

On Dec. 18, three high school students were found dead in the Gangneung pension while seven others were unconscious.

The students alive were immediately transported to hospitals and underwent high pressure oxygen treatment. Three students have fully recovered and were discharged from the hospital, but the remaining four are still undergoing treatment.

Hospital officials said all four will be able to return home in about two weeks.

BY JEONG JU-WON [jeong.juwon@joongang.co.kr]