Man buried alive then rescued from brutal heat

Emergency services staff speak to the patient in the trench, which is about three metres deep.
Emergency services staff speak to the patient in the trench, which is about three metres deep.

RICHARD Mark Forsythe narrowly avoided being buried alive after the trench he was working in collapsed on him, trapping him to his neck in Emerald's sweltering midday heat.

On Wednesday at 12.25pm, emergency services were called to the GP Superclinic site on Pilot Farm Rd, where Mr Forsythe's colleagues were desperately trying to remove the dirt from around his critically injured body.

It wasn't until four hours later that emergency services managed to safely remove the Gemfields man, 51, from the trench, after hours of battling to keep him alive.

Dr Ian Housego from the Emerald Hospital was on the scene and he said it was unlike anything he had seen before.

"The dirt was so compacted it was literally like he was in concrete; the fear was that the wall was going to collapse on the staff," Dr Housego said.

DIFFICULT SCENE: Firefighter Michael Gagnepain is offered water after working in the trench conveying medical supplies.
DIFFICULT SCENE: Firefighter Michael Gagnepain is offered water after working in the trench conveying medical supplies. Kelly Butterworth Emepilot

Emerald Ambulance Station acting officer-in-charge Mike Day said the delicate operation was "extremely, extremely difficult" due to the unsafe nature of the trench, and that it was "metres deep".

"It was incredibly hot," Mr Day, a level 2 advanced care paramedic, said.

"People were coming down with heat-related illnesses after short periods of time... the firies and police were rotating through the trench every 10 minutes or so, working to get that compacted dirt from out around him."

Mr Forsythe was encased up to his neck and, due to the weight of the soil, emergency services were forced to use small hand tools - and their own hands - to try to dig the compacted dirt out.

"We couldn't get it off; we couldn't physically move that soil," Mr Day said.

"It was frustrating, extremely frustrating, how long it took to get the gentleman out of the hold because of the way we had to extricate him ... it was potentially fatal."

Dr Housego said the heat left him with issues he had not encountered before.

"It was that hot down there that my chest tube melted onto the metal guide; it took me three chest tubes to get one that wasn't melted -- that's not normal," he said.

"It was a beyond-extreme situation; we do a lot of training here and I could not have dreamed that up in my wildest dreams as to how complex that situation was."

After four long hours, the patient was brought to the surface and taken for treatment.
After four long hours, the patient was brought to the surface and taken for treatment.

He said monitoring the patient was a big issue.

"Our big problem was that we couldn't monitor him effectively because we had a choice of either monitoring equipment down there, or a person," Dr Housego.

"The patient came out amazingly stable given the extent of his injuries."

Dr Housego said all staff involved in the incident were "suffering", with some requiring drips and medical treatment.

Emerald Fire Station acting station officer Peter Carroll said the four hours of work begun on the site at 12.39pm to extricate Mr Forsythe was "incredibly challenging".

"We had to physically get in, hands and knees, and dig," Mr Carroll said.

"At 15.47 (3.47pm) he was finally released from the soil and the process from there was getting him up out of the trench.

"At 15.52 (3.52pm) we handed him over to the hospital staff."

Fire-fighters and police staff were working in the trench shovelling the dirt around medical personnel, in a "complex" situation.

Central Highlands Regional Council chief executive officer Scott Mason said the council, which owns the site at which the accident occurred, was concerned for the "welfare of the injured contractor".

"The council is co-operating with Workplace Health and Safety Queensland officers undertaking their investigations," Mr Mason said.

"The site has been made secure as instructed."

Mr Day, Dr Housego and Mr Carroll thanked everyone involved and wished Mr Forsythe a quick recovery.

The scene

  • Rescue services called at 12.25pm
  • Patient vertical and awake
  • Extracted four hours later
  • Surgeons flown from Rockhampton
  • Patient flown to Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital in critical condition


Topics:  builder editors picks emerald queensland fire and emergency services rescue trenches

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