Worker finally freed after 5 hours in mud

By Robert Perez | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted August 6, 2003


Trapped worker freed (ORLANDO SENTINEL)
Aug 6, 2003

SANFORD -- Kelly Gibson probably didn't think twice about climbing out of the hole he and his co-workers had dug in the alley behind Dorothy Brazzell's house. He had climbed out of hundreds of holes and trenches during his 15 years with the Sanford utility department.

But Tuesday he found his leg stuck fast in the trench. The wet, heavy mud at the bottom clung to him like a leech, and there was little the 39-year-old could do to free himself.

When Gibson's co-workers jumped in to dig him out, they accidentally broke a line that began to fill the hole with water and quickly turned what was an embarrassing situation into a five-hour rescue drama.

Dozens of firefighters from Sanford and Seminole County worked against time and the elements to free Gibson. Victims in trench collapses can die from compression injuries caused by tons of dirt and sand pressing on their extremities. The longer they're trapped, the greater the danger.

But this situation was different. Rescuers were faced with pumping out hundreds of gallons of mud from around Gibson, who was buried up to his waist. But the more they pumped out, the more mud filled the hole, said Stan Human, Seminole County battalion chief.

Crews who worked in and around the hole behind 807 Rosalia Drive made little progress against the thick, black muck that held Gibson captive about 6 feet below the surrounding dirt and grass of the alleyway.

Even after three hours of feverish work by rescuers using shovels, 5-gallon buckets, a backhoe and a truck with a giant vacuum cleaner, Gibson was no closer to being free.

Efrem Session, who looked on from a fenced yard about 20 feet from the trench, pleaded with firefighters.

"Hey boss man, make sure you get him out," he called out. "That's my brother man."

Session said he has known Gibson for 10 years, about as long as his sister, Felicia, has dated Gibson.

"I know he's scared and probably anxious to get out of there," he said.

As the rescue wore on into its fourth hour, the weather began to work against firefighters. Dark clouds moved in from the northwest, and heavy rain and lightning came down by 4:30 p.m.

That's when rescuers changed their tactics. Instead of continuing the losing battle to pump the mud out, they decided to dig a deeper hole next to Gibson and let the mud fall away from him.

Felicia Session looked on nervously and complained of a pounding headache as a backhoe dug deep into the wet ground next to her fiancÚ. She tried to joke with friends and family but admitted she was scared and anxious.

"I just want to see him," she said.

But she didn't worry as much about how Gibson was handling himself.

Two years ago, Gibson nearly lost part of his foot in a lawn mower accident, but he remained calm throughout the incident, Felicia Session said .

"He's a hero because he doesn't panic," she said.

Shortly after 6 p.m., a light rain resumed over the rescue, then suddenly Gibson was being pulled out. A cheer erupted from the crowd of onlookers as his arms, then head, came into view. Soon Gibson's nearly limp body was being put onto a medical stretcher for the trip to Central Florida Regional Hospital.

He showed little emotion, but his face was a portrait of exhaustion and relief.

Calls of, "God is good" came from the crowd with the refrain, "All the time."

Dr. Todd Husty, Seminole County's medical director, said Gibson was doing remarkably well. Gibson's vital signs were monitored throughout the five-hour ordeal and remained steady.

"If I were his doctor, I'd send him home tonight," Husty said.

Robert Perez can be reached at rperez@orlandosentinel.com or 407-322-1298.