For about eight hours, rescue workers hoped their efforts to dig out a trapped construction worker was just that - a rescue operation and not a body recovery mission.
But the intensive efforts proved too late for the worker, whose body was found around 9 p.m. Thursday, nearly eight hours after he fell into a trench at the South County Wastewater Treatment Plant in Ruskin. He was swallowed by rain-soaked sand and mud that cascaded over him as stunned co-workers tried unsuccessfully to reach out to him.
The worker was identified by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials as John Rose, who was in his 50s, but no other information was available. Fire Rescue Deputy Chief of Operations Michael Guincho said his relatives, including his wife, were at the scene and were being comforted by church pastors and officials with the construction company for which he worked.
“I think they’re holding up pretty well,” Guincho said.
For hours, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue workers proceeded with the hope that the victim might have found an air pocket or crawled inside a 30-inch-wide pipe in the bottom of the trench.
But shortly after 9 p.m., they found his body, Guincho said. He said the county was using a large vacuum truck to suck away the sand and muck and found the body of the victim, which was recovered at 10:47 p.m.
“He was in six to eight feet of sand and mud,” Guincho said. “He had been in a bad situation for a long time.”
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Ron Rogers earlier said listening devices have been placed in the area in an attempt to determine if the man was still alive. Traffic on the adjacent Interstate 75 was temporarily shut down so emergency workers could listen to the sensitive microphone, he said.
“This can hear a mouse walking on the ground,” Rogers said.
Still, there was a lot of ambient noise being picked up by the microphone, including rain as it hit the ground.
The victim and two co-workers were walking along the trench around 1:30 p.m. Thursday when he slipped in or the ground gave way. A co-worker tried to pull him out, but the collapsing earth was too much and the soil, wet from rains over the past two days, caved in, he said.
The trench was dug a couple of weeks ago for the large pipe, which was not in use yet. The trench is about 8 feet deep, he said, with about 6 feet from the surface to the top of the pipe.
The accident happened at the plant at 520 Teco Road, just west of Interstate 75 and north of the Sun City Center/College Avenue interchange.
The sewer plant is in the middle of an $80 million expansion. The project, which is being done by PCL Civil Construction, will expand the capacity of the existing plant to treat 10 million gallons of sewage a day, compared to the current capacity of 4.5 million gallons.