After three hours of heavy labor, rescuers safely pulled a construction worker out of a muddy hole that entrapped him Thursday afternoon at an Apollo Beach subdivision.
He was working on piping in a man-made pit at home construction site near Big Bend Road and Waterset Boulevard when, about 3 p.m., the ground gave way, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.
The man became stuck waist-deep in the hole as water seeped in around him.
People working nearby quickly anchored the man to a long piece of lumber placed sideways in the hole to try to keep him from dropping farther. However, the lumber later sank into the mud. Rescuers worked to free both the man and the piece of wood to which he was tied.
More than a dozen people from Fire Rescue — including its "trench rescue" unit — responded to the scene, according to agency spokesman Ronnie Rivera. That unit is trained to stabilize the ground and help people out of holes.
Rescuers also had a pump, which removed water as it entered the pit.
Rivera said that the man was medically stable through the ordeal. As the hours slipped by, authorities said it was clear the man — who has not been named — was anxious. However, he stayed alert and conscious.
Fire Rescue kept in touch with physicians during the ordeal and treated the man for medical needs as best they could while others focused on freeing him, said Fire Rescue Deputy Chief David Travis. After the man was freed, he was airlifted in fair condition to Tampa General Hospital.
In situations like these, blood circulation and hypothermia are concerns, Travis said.
Even though it was warm outside Thursday afternoon, the water was cool and half of the man's body was in mud. Also, Travis said, because of the pressure, officials feared that the blood in the man's legs wasn't able to properly circulate to get his cells the necessary oxygen and nutrients. Still, Travis said he believes the construction worker can still use his legs.
"Obviously, we are happy with the outcome," Travis said.
The hole was not a sinkhole, authorities said. Rather, the man was a victim of shifting ground at a residential construction site, just west of Interstate 75 in southern Hillsborough County.
Shortly after they arrived, rescuers put a harness around him just in case there was another collapse, spokesman Rivera said. They pulled dirt out from around the man while blowing air from a compressor in an effort to make space around his body.
About two hours into the rescue, paramedics treated and transported two other construction workers. Travis said they were the first two on the scene who started helping the trapped worker. The men were suffering from exhaustion, Travis said.
Thursday's rescue had a happy ending, unlike a tragedy at a county wastewater treatment plant near Ruskin earlier this year.
In early January, three construction workers were walking above a new underground pipe at a water-treatment plant when the unsettled ground gave way and one was sucked into the earth.
After a rescue effort that stretched eight hours amid intermittent downpours, crews found the body of the worker — John Rose, 53 — buried some 6 to 8 feet down in the sand and mud.
Times staff writer Keeley Sheehan contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.