Lawton_For more than 14 hours 29-year-old Alejandro Cabrera of Wichita Falls remained conscious while trapped in a trench with thousands of pounds of dirt on top of him. He has survived and is recovering at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center after an early morning rescue, and resting comfortably with no broken bones.
7News was on the scene shortly after the trench collapsed at 82nd and Lee late Tuesday morning, with fire and emergency crews from Lawton and Oklahoma City working through much of the day and night to free him. It was painstaking work which freed him some 14 hours later, about 2 a.m.
Fire officials arriving first on the scene say it did not look good. The 15-foot hole had not been shored up or braced, something that should have been done. They then found the 12-foot concrete man hole had not been secured, either. So before they could even try to free the man, they had to shore up and brace thousands of pounds of dirt. Every time they would make progress, more of the ground would cave in and no one could predict how long the rescue would take.
Lawton Assistant Fire Chief Lonnie London said, "I've seen things like this before. To be perfectly honest, anytime someone is in the ground that long, it usually ends up being a body recovery. This guy is very fortunate the Big Guy Upstairs was watching him."
London said it was a combination of quick thinking and teamwork that saved Cabrera, that and his fellow construction worker. "He was covered, the gentleman that was working with him actually dug him an air hole so he could survive until the rescuers could get there on the scene."
That man was Hugo Reyes who said he saw his worst nightmare unfold before his eyes. Reyes said, "I told him, ‘Alex, you need to run because this ditch is fixing to cave in.' When I tried to run to the top, I seen the dirt moving quick. I told him, ‘Alex, run! Run quick!'"
The need for speed from firefighters responding to a fire, comes to a braking halt when it comes to trench collapse work. Firefighters say the precautions are obvious. They have to shore up things to make sure there won't be a collapse and get on any of the rescuers so they won't have more injuries when they get inside. It's so dangerous that the rescue crews resorted to digging out the dirt by hand, bucket by bucket.
Assistant Fire Training Officer Jared Williams says Lawton firefighters have limited training when it comes to trench rescue, and did not anticipate the long hours of rescue. "After speaking with some of our subject matter experts from Oklahoma City, they relayed to us that this probably was one of the most difficult trench rescues that you can imagine," Williams said. "Anything that could go wrong, was wrong!"
Fortunately, something did go right. Colin Leggett, the operator on the job site during the collapse, said, "He was covered up on the edge of the cave-in which was real helpful. If he had been in the middle of where it caved off, then it would have been a whole different day." It was a day that ended around 2 a.m. Wednesday with one life being saved.
Cabrera is a contract worker for Hooper Construction in Wichita Falls, Texas. The company says it expects to continue business as usual by the end of the week or early next week. OSHA is investigating the accident site.
OSHA is investigating the incident.