In dramatic rescue, NYC firefighters save subway worker trapped in mud

A crane hoisted a basket that carried Joseph Barrone after his ordeal below ground when he was stuck in the mud.
CBS News

(CBS News) NEW YORK - If you think you had a tough day at work, we doubt it compares to what happened to a construction worker 75 feet below the sidewalks of New York City.

On Tuesday night, 51-year-old Joseph Barrone was working below ground in a subway site under construction, when, as he described, he got stuck chest-deep in thick mud.

"It's clay," said Barrone from a hospital bed, "and the clay was sucking me and everything with the water and it wouldn't release me."

Worker trapped at NYC construction site freed

Joseph Barrone, 51, seen here at a hospital, was working below ground at a subway construction site when he got stuck chest-deep in mud. About 150 firefighters were summoned to rescue him. CBS News

About 150 firefighters swarmed the site. It took rescuers more than an hour just to determine if Barrone was still alive. Fire Chief Donald Hayde directed the rescue, and said everyone he sent in was getting stuck themselves.

"In my 36 years on the fire department," he said, "it's the most difficult technical rescue I've been involved."

When rescuers found Barrone, he was stuck between plywood and metal bars. The first rescue units tied ropes around him so he wouldn't get sucked in further. Next, a backhoe truck dug a trench around him.

Then a device called a griphoist was sent in to rip up the plywood. Rescuers then rigged a ConEd truck with a hose to suck out muck. Still unable to pry Barrone free, more workers were deployed to dig through the mud by hand.

As the hours ticked, the temperatures dropped dangerously low.

It took rescuers four hours to pull Joseph Barrone -- seen in the black hat -- loose and lift him to the surface in a basket hoisted by a crane. CBS News

"Try to keep me awake because I was getting cold, tried to keep me coherent and everything," recalled Barrone.

It took rescuers four hours to pull Barrone loose and lift him to the surface in a basket hoisted by a crane.

No one was more relieved than Barrone's wife Candy.

"I'm so grateful to the fire department," she said. "Thank God they know what they are doing."

Three firefighters were hurt in the rescue -- minor injuries we're told. As for Barrone, he's in a hospital recovering. He reported bruising on his legs, nothing too serious. He said he plans to be back at work just as soon as he possibly can.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.