Yesterday I was wasting my time surfing the web with little if nothing to do for my new university courses (we started them just a week ago), and with Modena wrapped up in several inches of snow. On my long journey on various websites, I also tried to get some additional informations about the Mont Blac tunnel.
It's a 11,6 km tunnel under the highest mountain of Europe, and it helps connecting the Northeast of Italy with the Southwest of France, helping saving 50 km when reaching Turin (from France) and up to 100 km when heading to Milan.
After a huge fire in 1999, where 39 people died, the tunnel was closed for three years for repairs and updates. Many of you may even not know about this accident especially if you don't live in Europe, or France and Italy. There is a chance you won't remember of it even if you live here.
Personally I did remember about it, and I actually thought it was happened much closer to now.
A lot of things went wrong that day. A truck transporting butter and flour caught fire without the driver noticing it. It is still unclear how that happened, but when the driver tried to extinguish the fire it was too late, and the white dense smoke was already preventing many drivers to find their way out despite the tunnel being basically straight. In a few minutes the smoke became dark and even thinker. While some cars managed to exit trough the Italian side, two fire trucks were sent from the French side but they could even reach the original accident spot as the temperatures were already too high and the smoke was making it almost impossible to walk, while wrecked and abandoned cars were preventing the trucks to go any further. They had to enter one of the emergency fire cubicles on the side of the tunnels.
Five hours later a third team rescued them, but out of 15 firefighters one of them died in the hospital.
Those cubicles were equipped with doors capable to resist 2 ours of direct fire, whit some of them been update trough the years whit an extended range of 4 hours.
The fire burned for 56 hours, and it took five days before the conditions inside of the tunnel could allow any person to enter it, after an over 1.000 °C temperature had melted to the ground basically everything.
Even in the first minutes all the cables were melted so the tunnel was left in the dark with no electricity.
27 people died in their vehicles, 10 were bodies were found on what was left of the road, trying to reach an exit. Then there is the firefighter, and then there is Pierlucio Tinazzi.
If 12 people survived is only because one Pierlucio Tinazzi helped them.
All they would have later said was "the guy with the bike saved my life".
He was an employee of SITMB, the company in charge of managing the Italian side of the tunnel. His role was to run the tunnel up and down to check if everything was OK and to occasionally give assistance to driver in need. He turned down the possibility to work in the office as it preferred to ride his bike in the tunnel.
He was on the French side, ready to start his job again after a break, when the fire began.
The firefighters already gave up when he decided to take his bike, breathing equipments and to enter the tunnel. Thanks to a radio built in his helmet he was continuously in contact whit the Italian side of the team.
Down in the tunnel, he found a 6 people trying to run out of the tunnel, and helped them, giving the instruction never to stop if not to breath from the air vents positioned on the walls, to walk close to the walls where the fresh air was pumped and to stay down to avoid the smoke. Then he went even further, and found other people not able to walk away or too far from the exit. He took each of them on his bike and run out of the tunnel again on the French side. He did it five times, saving 5 additional people.
On his last attempt, he found an unconscious truck driver, too heavy to get him on the bike, so Pierlucio dragged him in an emergency fire cubicles.
That's the last thing he did.
Five days later the only thing that was found was his BMW bike melted to the ground, about 200 meters from the starting point of the fire, about 2,5 kilometers down the tunnel.
I entered the Mont Blanc tunnel twice, one per each side, and didn't even notice the small commemorative plaque on the Italian side of the tunnel. I didn't even know about him, yet this guy not only died to save a life, he saved all the 12 people was managed to survive to the fire.
I have a lot of respect for those people who help others, for those who do that for free, for those who give their lives for other people they don't even know.
What I can't stand is why we, Italian people, have to commemorate only people who die in extraordinary conditions or places, without noticing the ordinary guy who did more in his last hour than what we would do in out entire life.
I also have a lot of respect for people in the army. We aren't a country which uses its army to invade other countries, to fight them or to "bring democracy all over the world". We arrive later, when the big deal is done and what is needed is only a resident army to keep everything under control. That's what we do, so there aren't many "fundamentalists" in the army, people ready to shot whatever moves. Mainly they do missions to actually help the population, without even using their weapons.
So, when somone from the army dies in Afghanistan it isn't something good at all, no doubt, and I'm sorry for him.
Just, is it all that necessary to stop the whole country, to give them State funerals, while each of us should feel like in debt towards them.
I don't get it, especially if we can't even remember an employee which saved 12 people whit his bike when firefighters could even enter the tunnel, or when we can't even think about the fact many people die every day just trying to earn enough money to pay the bills and no one told them "hey, people shot each other on the streets, it's a war".
Really I don't get it, digressing maybe, but I feel sad that I went to the Mont Blanc tunnel without even knowing the guy who would have saved me.
Sources of the images: here, here, here and here.