LEHI – Seth Thomas has a fractured pelvis and knee injury, but he is grateful to be alive.
Dozens of people came to his aid when he was buried in a 10-feet deep trench on Oct. 29. On Thursday, he spoke about what went through his mind after the collapse, and how grateful he was to the people who risked their lives to save him.
Thomas, a drain technician with Whipple Service, was digging a trench about 10 feet deep, 15 feet long and 4 feet wide to replace a damaged pipe when the weight of the wet soil piled next to the trench caused the shoring to break.
“The last shoring that went up, I turned around, and it just collapsed,” Thomas said. “As I turned around, it hit my left side of my body, and the plywood snapped and pinned me. (The) sewer pipe was at my ankle and pinned my foot so I couldn’t get free. It fell twice. It caved in and threw me against the wall and caved in again.”
Ken Bogedahl, who owns the home near 2400 North and 910 West where Thomas was digging in the front yard, said his wife heard a board "snap," saw Thomas trapped and called 911.
“The only thought going through my mind was how painful it was,” Thomas said. “The next thought was, 'Is this next one going to fall on top of me and snap my body?' Because if it did, it would have finished me."
Thomas, a single dad, said he was in shock and hyperventilating. He began to panic, thinking of his two children, ages 7 and 9.
“I didn’t know how this was going to turn out,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out alive. I was worried if there was going to be more collapse, and I wasn’t in a position to handle that. It just buried me.”
More than 30 rescuers from fire departments in Lehi, Orem, Pleasant Grove and Provo were called to help get Thomas out.
Lehi Fire Capt. Jake Beck and firefighter Trevor Dorton were among those called in to help. They are part of the Utah County technical rescue team, which specializes in technical rescue.
When they arrived on the scene, crews had been working for more than 20 minutes securing the site.
“We suited up, got in harnesses," Beck said, "and once we looked over the edge, (we) could see the victim down at the bottom of the trench, probably 10-12 feet down, and pinned by particle board, a little bit of cement and mostly mud and dirt."
Dorton was the first firefighter to go into the trench.
“He was in obvious pain, obvious discomfort and obviously just wanted to get out of the trench," he said.
“When they got down there with me, I felt a little more hope, and I was a little more calm to know they were right there with me,” Thomas said.
Rescuers assured Thomas they were going to get him out.
“I was hyperventilating and going in shock, and they were just reassuring, and I remember at one point, one guy held my hand,” Thomas said.
Beck and Dorton carefully started digging, handing buckets of dirt to fellow rescuers above. At one point, both realized the danger they were all facing.
“Both Trevor and I were on our hands and knees after we were pulling dirt out, and we both kind of looked at each other without even saying anything, and I knew what he was thinking, and I think he knew what I was thinking as were looking around, and I thought, 'Man, this could be a pretty bad situation,'" Beck said.
"There was a point where I said a prayer and basically prayed to my higher power and asked him please let me see my kids tonight," Thomas said.
After 90 minutes, Thomas was pulled to safety, loaded onto a stretcher and embraced by his fellow employees.
He was then flown to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo for treatment and went home that same day. He’s recovering from a fractured pelvis and a knee injury.
Thomas’ children didn’t really know what happened until they saw it on the news.
"My little boy saw me in crutches and started crying," Thomas said. "He was just real emotional. I told him, 'It's OK. Everything is fine. I'm alive.'"
Thomas said he's very grateful to the firefighters who saved his life and hopes to tell them in person one day.
"If I could just have them all over, I'd give them a hug and tell them thanks and how thankful I am for them being there and helping me out," he said.
"They're heroes," Thomas added. "Every day we pass fire stations and see trucks out on the road. We don't realize that those guys in those trucks and buildings are out there to save lives and make sure we do get home to our families."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company