Tunnel deemed sound 2 days before collapse

YAMANASHI, Japan - An affiliated company of Central Nippon Expressway Co., operator of the Chuo Expressway, performed a routine check of the ceiling panels of the Sasago Tunnel in Yamanashi Prefecture and reported all was well on Nov 30, two days before a ceiling collapse killed nine people.

According to the Hachioji branch of NEXCO-Central, its affiliate Central Nippon Highway Engineering Tokyo Co. in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, sent an employee responsible for engineering from its branch office in Otsuki to conduct a visual check of its interior from the passenger seat of a vehicle traveling through the tunnel, which is considered a routine check.

The employee reportedly checked if any light bulbs were burned out or any ceiling panels were not aligned. The check is carried out about 10 times a month, and the report that no problems were detected was given to NEXCO-Central's Otsuki maintenance center later on the day.

Investigating the incident as a possible case of professional negligence resulting in death, Yamanashi prefectural police on Tuesday searched the affiliated company's headquarters and Otsuki office, as well as NEXCO-Central's Otsuki maintenance center, and seized internal documents and other items.

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