Trapped worker pulled from construction site


The man was trapped underground for hours, buried neck-deep in sand. A San Francisco construction worker's first day on the job was no doubt his worst.

For the victim Miguel Vaca, it was the first day on a new job and the accident happened in his first two hours.

"This guy was really, really lucky because he was with one of his buddies who was able to keep the dirt off his face," San Francisco Fire Dep. Chief Pat Gardner said.

That buddy was "Arnold," a workman on the job. He said, "It was in one second. There was no time to hear anything. [Everything just broke]." He said sand was going inside the man's mouth and he tried to clear the man's nose. "It was really scary."

Emergency crews arrived on the scene shortly after 1 p.m. Workers had been perched atop a deck, building what appeared to be a foundation in the back of the home at 38 Clay Street. Beneath them was a large trench on a hillside overlooking Lobos Creek.

"While they were using a drill, one of the columns on the deck collapsed and he fell into a trench," San Francisco Fire Lt. Mindy Talmadge said.

A wall of sand enveloped the worker up to his neck. Emergency crews used shovels, rope, plywood and bracings to firm up the trench.

"They immediately began digging him out and as they were digging him out more of the wall collapsed down," Talmadge said.

Crews worked feverishly, digging and shoring up the eroding trench while paramedics worked with the worker whom they say remained calm throughout the crisis.

"Right now he's talking to everybody; they have an IV in him and he's conscious, so these are good signs," Talmadge said.

It took rescue crews over four hours to carefully extricate the man from the ditch.

What concerned the medical team was the possibility that the worker may be suffering internal injuries from a condition called the "crushing syndrome."

"When you're in a crushed situation, the acid builds up and when you're released from that crushed situation, the acid finally begins traveling through your body with your blood," Talmadge said.

The man was transported to a local hospital after being pulled from the ditch. He was reported to be talking and smiling.

The staff at the hospital found no major injuries and found him to be in good condition.

Cal OSHA and San Francisco building inspectors are investigating the accident.

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