KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Knox County Rural Metro Fire said one of the workers rescued Thursday is out of the hospital, and the other is reportedly stable after a trench collapsed and trapped them under several feet of dirt for several hours.
"I've been doing this a long time in Knox County, and we've never had a collapse this deep in Knox County that's survivable. And it's absolutely amazing," said John Whited with Rural Metro.
Whited was on the team responding during Thursday's rescue.
Rural Metro said the worker who's still in the hospital is being monitored for Compartment Syndrome, which is a painful and potentially dangerous condition caused by pressure build-up in enclosed muscle spaces from internal bleeding or swelling.
At 12:40 p.m. on Thursday, Rural Metro said crews responded to a trench rescue in Powell at East Beaver Creek Drive near Allison Way in Knox County.
According to Rural Metro, two workers were putting down a pipeline for a nearby apartment complex that's under construction when the trench collapsed on them around 11:50 a.m.
By 6:15 p.m. officials said one of the two construction workers had been pulled out from under nearly 10 feet of dirt after more than six hours. His injuries are unknown, but Rural Metro said he would be taken to the trauma center for treatment and evaluation because the weight of that much dirt can cause internal injuries.
By 8 p.m. Jeff Bagwell with Rural Metro Fire said the second worker was pulled out from the trench.
The first worker was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center by Lifestar, while the second one to be rescued was taken by ground.
Authorities said both men were between 30 and 40 years old. They said the second man faced possible hypothermia from being in the ground so long, but crews were able to use electric heaters to help keep him warm.
The Knoxville Fire Department, the Knox County Rescue Squad and many community members helped with the rescue. Nearby restaurants provided food, while Tennova North and Lowe's also helped the man. Officials said crews may wait until morning to help pull out the wood that was used in the rescue.
Tennessee OHSA dispatched a safety compliance officer to the site of the trench collapse on Thursday and started "an investigation into the circumstances that led to this trench collapse to determine if the employer was adhering to all safety and health standards at the time of the incident," according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
During the rescue Thursday, crews said when they were able to see one of the worker's hands and communicate with him, saying they were making sure he was ok by asking him to move his hand and wiggle his fingers.
Rural Metro said it took a while before they were able to establish contact with the second man, who was reportedly conscious as he was trapped below 10 feet of dirt. They said there was a pocket of vision through the dirt, and said he was responsive, but in critical condition.
Rural Metro said both men were given IVs during the rescue and were in critical condition by 4 p.m. The soil was wet, and Rural Metro explained removing them from the dirt was like "taking a cork out of a bottle piece by piece."
Command expected it would take up to eight hours to rescue them. Crews said they were able to bring out vacuum trucks from the city and county in hopes of speeding up the rescue process, but by 5 p.m. it became apparent it would take more time to free them.
Spanish language interpreters were also assisting to communicate with the two.
Crews shored the trench to keep it from further collapsing so they could remove the dirt around the trapped workers.
A UT Medical Center LIFESTAR helicopter landed at the incident site around 2:30 p.m. to transport the patients once they are freed.
Rural Metro blocked road access to the area as the worked to rescue the two men.