Worker dies while in manhole

April 24, 2009 5:41:46 PM PDT
Investigators in north Houston are trying to figure out what caused two contract workers to collapse while working inside a manhole this afternoon. One of those men has died. This all happened just a block away from an earlier manhole rescue this morning and authorities are now saying the two incidents are related.

Investigators tell us the two incidents are related in the sense that they involve the same crew and they happened just hours apart, outside of Beltway 8 west of I-45. Two men were found unconscious at the bottom of a 12 foot water main access hole, at the corner of Rankin and Northborough. Firefighters arrived on the scene to find one man semi-conscious at the bottom of the 12-foot hole. They say the other man was already dead.

They also discovered the air in the hole had 13% oxygen. They tell us 20% oxygen in the atmosphere is normal, and anything below 16% can be extremely dangerous.

Chief Richard Pattison with the Houston Fire Department said, "As soon as you take a breath, there's nothing and you pass out. After four to six minutes you could have potential brain damage."

This same crew was involved in another incident earlier in the day in the same area where a man fell into another manhole that leads to a water main. Officials tell us the fall did not involve a lack of oxygen at the bottom of the hole. Rather they believe the man fell as he was trying to get into the hole.

That victim doesn't speak English and he was slipping in and out of consciousness. When he was alert, he was very disoriented. It took rescuers about 35 minutes to get the man out.

"A limp body is just dead weight," said HFD Assistant Chief Rick Pattison. "He wouldn't be cooperative, because he was not awake. He couldn't help himself. So, we had to get two firefighters down there. One of them was a paramedic. They had air packs on. Dealing with the added weight and trying to move the patient around was very difficult. He was limp and then he would start fighting our paramedics."

He is expected to survive his injuries.

The injured man found semi-conscious in the afternoon accident was taken by Life Flight to Memorial Hermann Hospital. We do not have an update on his condition.

Officials with HFD, HPD, OSHA and CenterPoint Energy are all on the scene investigating this deadly accident.

None of the victims have been identified, except to say they are white men between the ages of 40 and 40. Their identities are held pending notification of relatives.

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