HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - Chris Gerhardt, a 27-year-old father of four, is feeling much better after spending nearly six hours trapped in a trench Wednesday.
He said he wasn’t sure he would survive.
"I’ve never been that scared in my life,” Gerhardt said.
Gerhardt was part of a two-man crew that was digging a hole to repair a sewer line leak.
He said when the backhoe operator told him to go into the trench to inspect the line, he was apprehensive because the ground seemed unstable.
"I expressed multiple times that I was concerned about it,” Gerhardt said. "He told me we had to get it done, basically.”
Almost as soon as he went into the hole, one wall collapsed, burying Gerhardt up to his chest. As his partner phoned 911, a second trench wall collapsed.
“I thought for that split second that was it. That freaked me out,” Gerhardt said.
Klein firefighters arrived in minutes, but had to wait for equipment to shore up the unstable trench before they could begin digging Gerhardt out.
“I just had a lot of people looking at me, but I still was worried that maybe I was not coming out of that hole alive,” he said. “If the back wall would have fallen on me that was directly behind me, that would have been it."
It took firefighters hours to first stabilize the trench and then meticulously dig out the dirt trapping Gerhardt one bucket at a time.
The first time they tried to pull him out, it didn’t work.
“I let them try one time lifting me up with the harness but felt as if my shin was splitting apart. I had to tell them to put me back down,” he said. “On the inside, I was terrified, but I tried to keep it calm and help as much as I could."
After more digging, his left leg was still partially buried, but they tried again.
Gerhardt credits Houston firefighter Sam Castenada with helping him pull it free.
"I was screaming, but man, I was like, ‘It hurts, it hurts, but it’s coming. I feel it. It’s coming. It hurts,' and he kept pulling and I kept pulling, and it finally came out and I just gave him a big ol' hug," Gerhardt said.
Gerhardt was immediately flown to Memorial Hermann hospital, where he remains under observation.
He said his left leg is still stiff and tingling, but he’s thankful to be alive.
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