Trapped underground for 13 hours, man finally rescued in Oakland

After a 13-hour rescue effort, Oakland fire crews successfully pulled a man to safety Wednesday morning after he became trapped in a 10-foot sewer line.

Officials say an independent contractor was working on a sewer line when the trench collapsed on him.  It happened around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at 23rd Street and 21st Avenue. 

Rescue crews say it took so long to rescue the man because they had to shore up the 15-foot deep trench to get him out safely.

Once rescuers shored up the trench they strapped the man into a harness and raised him to safety at about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

The man was identified as 42-year-old Rogelio Esparza of Hayward.  He was taken to the hospital after being rescued, but Oakland fire officials say he was alert, responsive and talking throughout the ordeal.

While rescue crews took their time to make sure everyone was safe during the rescue, the looming threat of early morning rain was a concern for rescue crews.

At nightfall crews had overhead lights as they continued to work on pulling Esparza from the trench using various tools and strategies.

Crews had placed heaters at the top of the trench to keep Esparza warm during the ordeal.

Esparza was part of a four-person plumbing crew digging beneath the sidewalk to work on a broken sewer line. The crew apparently didn’t shore up the sides of the trench strongly enough when sandy soil collapsed on two of the workers.

The other man quickly escaped, but Esparza was buried in soil up to his chest.

The top of his head was measured at about 8-feet deep in the hole, according to Oakland Fire Department Deputy Chief Mark Hoffman. The soft soil and clay has continually caved in on itself as the rescue crews have attempted many methods in the hours-long process.

Crews used makeshift, plywood walls and vacuums to suck the material out of the hole as Esparza waits. Hoffman said the bottom of the hole has been more problematic as the trench collapses onto itself. The entire hole is about 15-feet deep.