Firefighters describe effort to save man from sinkhole

- Last Friday a 62-year-old farm worker died in a terrible accident, he was working in a field when the ground below him gave way, and he fell 18 feet into a giant sinkhole.

It took several hours for crews to find his body, and as you can imagine the recovery mission was especially difficult.

The Deputy Chief of the Queen Creek Fire Department describes what rescuers went through as they spent 7 hours along with half a dozen agencies to get the victim out of the sinkhole.

"We didn't have a victim that we could see or hear," said Deputy Chief Vance Gray.

60-year-old Guadalupe Gomez-Nila was swallowed up by the sinkhole, and he couldn't make it out on his own. Deputy Chief Gray was on scene for almost the entire recovery effort.

12-feet is about where the victim was, and there was probably 4-5 feet of dirt on top of him," said Gray.

Firefighters didn't immediately enter the sinkhole; water was continuing to flow beneath the surface. No one knew if the earth would continue to give way.

"Throughout the whole event, as the erosion continued, the sides of the sinkhole continued to give way and break away. Ultimately at the end of the day we had a 12-18 foot wide sinkhole and ultimately about 18 feet deep," he said.

Queen Creek Fire called on nearby fire department and mobilized a Technical Rescue Team, and even the town's water department to the scene.

"We had a hole that had very sheer walls, and what we had to do was make a bowl out of that hole, so that there was no danger of collapsing or to engage other rescuers," said Gray.

The water department operated heavy machinery, a backhoe, and a vacuum truck. Once they got close enough to the victim, the firefighters went into the sinkhole to dig him out with their hands.

"It's literally digging with shovels, and hands, when we get to that point so we can preserve the victim as best we can," said Gray.

Over a dozen firefighters were able to carry out Nila's body and give his family closure.

"You just don't anticipate something like this is going to happen from a first responder perspective, but you're doing your job," said Gray.

The cause of the sinkhole remains under investigation. Firefighters suspect an irrigation pipe or pathway underground may have been breached, and the water had been leaking under the roadway for some time, eroding the dirt, and causing the collapse.

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