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Trapped Worker Freed From Trench Collapse At East Harlem Construction Site

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A worker who was trapped in a trench collapse in East Harlem has been rescued.

The collapse took place at a construction site on 122nd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues around 11 a.m. The FDNY says a worker fell into a 10 foot trench that collapsed alongside a building where crews were doing waterproofing.

LISTEN: 1010 WINS Juliet Papa reports


The victim had been waterproofing the foundation of a building when a void opened up beneath him. The firefighters immediately wrapped him in a sling and attached it to ropes dangling from an overhead ladder.

Witnesses say there was no loud noise beforehand, just a cry for help and man seemingly being swallowed by the earth.

"I just kept whispering in his ear, 'You're doing fine'," Firefighter Tim O'Toole told CBS 2's Lou Young. "He was panicking because he kept slipping down... he never really went below his chest."

Hole Harlem Trench Accident
Hole where worker was trapped (credit: Juliet Papa/1010 WINS)

The worker was buried up to his waist in dirt and mud. Fire officials say the man never lost consciousness, but there was concern about keeping him warm because the mud he was trapped in was cold and over time, hypothermia could become a risk.

"He was starting to go into shock. In other words he'd been down there about an hour before we got him out," said FDNY Deputy Chief Daniel Donoghue.

Asked how long it would take before hypothermia became a factor, Donoghue answered: "Probably about now."

There was a big rock and the finally got the rock out and we could see it was his head," said witness David Velez.

Firefighters, ESU and EMTs all participated in the rescue and a Con Edison vacuum truck was brought in to suck up the dirt.

He was freed after being trapped for about an hour and taken to Harlem Hospital in serious condition.

He seemed fine.  Alert and in minimal pain, but people familiar with these kind of incidents say there is a danger here.  It's called "crush syndrome."

"It's also known as the "walking dead." You pull people out of a building collapse.  They're walking. They're fine.  They're not treated for crush syndrome and two days later they die as a result of the toxins that are released," said FDNY Capt. Ian Sword.

The worker will be be hospitalized for several days as building inspectors try to figure out precisely how he got trapped in the first place.

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