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Plumber rescued from trench collapse at Calif. mall

Rescuers spent five hours digging the plumber out from a collapse at a National City shopping mall


National City Firefighters Local 2744/Facebook

By Karen Kucher
The San Diego Union-Tribune

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. — A plumber looking for an underground pipe was trapped when a trench collapsed at a National City shopping mall Monday afternoon. He was freed about five hours later, after firefighters used shovels to dig him out of the damp dirt, a fire official said.

The 60-year-old man was working at a construction site at the northeast corner of the Westfield Plaza Bonita in a trench estimated to be 7 to 8 feet deep when a dirt wall behind him collapsed shortly before 1:20 p.m. He was pinned about waist-deep in “mucky, damp and wet dirt,” said National City Battalion Chief Robert Hernandez.

The force of the falling dirt pushed the man forward against a wall, and his legs folded behind him — leaving the back of his legs and calves buried under heavy dirt.

Firefighters from National City, Chula Vista and Bonita responded and came up with a rescue plan.

Initially they intended to hoist the man out of the hole using ropes and pulleys. They set up the gear and shored up the sides of the trench to keep the walls from collapsing more. But they changed the plan and decided to dig him out of the hole by hand instead, because every time they started to lift the man out, he cried out in pain.

Working in teams of two, firefighters used shovels to dig out the dirt, putting it in five-gallon buckets and hoisting it out of the hole. After hours of work, they were able to free his legs and pull the man out.

During the rescue, paramedics evaluated him every 20 to 30 minutes, making sure he was breathing freely and as comfortable as possible, Hernandez said. “Here is a guy in a hole for five hours, surrounded by all this pressure and weight of the dirt, and it is moisture-laden and it is cold,” he said. “It was important to make sure his health was being evaluated throughout” the rescue.

He was taken to a hospital and assessed overnight, but he was in good condition and expected to be released from the hospital Tuesday, Hernandez said.

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