University of Utah employee falls 15 feet down manhole

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A University of Utah employee is in the hospital after falling 15 feet down a manhole.

The man was working on fiber optic cables underground on the university campus near the broadcast building. He was climbing out of a utility tunnel when his ladder gave way, and he fell into the hole.

It was not an easy rescue for the Salt Lake City Fire Department. The manhole he was working in is quite narrow. The Heavy Rescue Team had to bring in ropes, pulleys and special equipment to get him out.

"They are highly trained in any kind of high-angle rescue or confined space like this is, they do this stuff on a regular basis, they are also firefighters and paramedics," says Mark Bednarik, spokesperson for the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

The man fell down the manhole just after he finished his job and started to climb out.

"The bottom of the ladder gave out," says Michael Sonntag, fiber optics supervisor at the University of Utah. "He flipped down into the hole and fell down."

Fortunately, the worker was not alone; his supervisor was close by.

"It made a whole lot of noise when the ladder fell. He landed on his back and on his ankle, and he wasn't moving after that, so I called 911," says Sonntag.

When the Heavy Rescue Team arrived they set up a tripod pulley system.

"We use a lot of mechanical advantage in how we set up the rope systems and pulleys, but it is a bit of a challenge," says Bednarik.

Crews sent one rescuer down into the manhole. He treated the worker, hooked him up to a harness and rescuers hoisted him out, just like they're trained to do.

"They work in these very tight, very confined spaces on a regular basis," says Bednarik. "It is challenging work but they are a good team and they know what they are doing."

After being pulled out, the man was talking and appeared to be without serious injuries. Crews put him on a back board to protect his spine as a precaution. He was taken to the hospital to have his injuries evaluated.


Story compiled with contributions from Anne Forester and Randall Jeppesen.


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