A man was buried beneath three feet of dirt for about 15 minutes after the walls of a trench collapsed around him Thursday morning as he worked on a west Modesto farm.
Rescue workers using shovels pulled him free, and he was taken by helicopter to a hospital in critical condition, authorities said. His condition was upgraded to stable, and his injuries are not life-threatening, a hospital nursing supervisor said.
The man was identified as Kyle Oosterkamp, 19, according to a cousin who was working with Oosterkamp at the time of the collapse.
The accident happened about 9:30 a.m. at a farm near Beckwith and Finney roads.
Heath Flora, an engineer with Woodland Avenue Fire District, was one of the first to arrive and helped extricate Oosterkamp.
"He was completely buried," Flora said. "We uncovered a leg at first, a piece of denim. Then we spread our search out a little more and then uncovered his back. Then we found his head. We lifted his head straight out, he took a nice deep breath and seemed to be recovered, hopefully.
"He wasn't conscious at that time, but once he took some breaths, and we got some oxygen to him for a couple of minutes, he picked up again, and he was talking and alert when he left here."
Dale Skiles, chief of the Salida Fire Protection District, said Oosterkamp, along with other workers, were tending to a pipe inside the trench on the family farm.
"We were digging a trench and putting something in the hole and the hole just collapsed," said cousin Mark Oosterkamp, 20, who was visibly shaken as he described the events. "We just got in there and were digging with our hands."
He said there was one other worker in the trench, which after the accident appeared to be about 15 feet deep, 30 feet long and 8 feet across at its widest point. The other worker barely escaped injury.
As the wall caved, Mark Oosterkamp, who was sitting in the cab of a nearby backhoe, said Kyle Oosterkamp yelled to alert other workers before the collapsing dirt slammed against him.
Mark Oosterkamp began digging furiously with his hands, while another employee went to call 911 and lead rescuers to the trench.
"I saw it all happen and was immediately dreading the worst," Mark Oosterkamp said.
He directed rescuers to where his cousin was buried, then prayed with his father, Gary.
"We are just thankful he is OK," Mark Oosterkamp said.
There were some anxious moments as rescue workers began digging. They arrived about five minutes after the call and found Oosterkamp about 10 minutes later, Flora said.
The trench walls weren't stable, so just two rescue workers were allowed to dig at one time. They had to work fast but carefully to avoid further injury to Oosterkamp.
"You know the individual is probably not going to survive if you take much more time," Flora said. "It's one of those justifiable risks."
"You try not to miss any steps, and at the same time, when you're dealing with a severe situation, every second counts," Skiles said. "This is evidence. We reacted and acted quickly to take good care of the patient."
Bee online news editor Brian Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2362.
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