Two workers in Omaha, Nebraska, were cleaning the city’s sewer pipes when suddenly they found themselves going on a trip that almost cost them their lives. After one wrong step, both men were swept away by the water rushing through the city’s drain system.
While one was wearing a safety tether and only traveled a short distance, the other, a 41-year-old man, made his best Super Mario impression: rushing through a gigantic pipe without a clue as to where he was heading.
The two were working for Ace Pipe Cleaning, a company working for the City of Omaha on a sewer-cleaning contract. It was unclear Friday how they were swept into the pipe. One of the men was tethered to a safety system, and firefighters helped quickly pull him out, The Omaha World Herald writes.
The other man, who fire officials were told was not tethered, was swept into city sewers carrying rushing water from Friday’s heavy rain, touching off a dramatic search and rescue effort by city fire and street maintenance crews and the contractor.
The man was finally located at about 10:20 a.m. Friday in a culvert near Fourth and Jones Streets, close to a city pumping station and the Missouri River.
The man had gotten himself out of the flowing water, but was trapped behind a metal grate covering the culvert, fire officials said. Rescuers cut the grate and got the man free, said Assistant Chief Jason Bradley of the Omaha Fire Department, which led the search and rescue effort.
That ended a race by firefighters, sewer maintenance workers, police and Ace Pipe Cleaning workers to find and save the man before he drowned or was jettisoned into the river.
Bradley told the newspaper that he deployed “several resources to search the sewer system.” They had no idea where he was or how far he’d travel as the water swept him away.
The first responders said they had two things working to help them find the fallen worker. The city’s sewer pipes widen closer to the Missouri River, growing from 36 to 90 inches in diameter. This allows the sewer system to drain more efficiently.
“We don’t know what’s underneath there, but we know about how wide the pipes are,” Omaha Fire Dept. Batallion Chief Jason Bradley said. “The pipes get progressively bigger the closer you get to the river, so we knew that if he could make it through here, at 19th and (Howard) where he went in, it was gonna get bigger down toward the area where we were searching.”
Officials say he had pulled himself out of the water but was still trapped by metal grates. OFD crews used rotary saws to cut the metal cover over the culvert and remove the victim at approximately 10:15 a.m. He was then transported to Nebraska Medical Center.