Joseph Barone, 51, was being treated Wednesday at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center for various injuries to his arms and legs as well as hypothermia. And as CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported exclusively, Barone talked from his hospital bed about being 75 feet below ground, trying to hook something onto a crane above ground.
“I went downstairs to hook up a machine that we pull out of the hole with the crane, and the crane was overhead, so I moved out of the way and I stepped in the mud, and the mud just grabbed me and wouldn’t release me,” Barone said.
Barone became trapped in a quicksand-like mixture of mud and debris in the tunnel just after 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. He was rescued just after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.
At the hospital, Barone said he couldn’t wait to get back to work – a comment that was hard to believe given his ordeal. In fact, with his family surrounding his hospital bed, Barone was all smiles.
“It’s clay, and the clay was sucking me and everything with the water, it wouldn’t release me,” he said. “That’s what it was. It was just sucking me in.”
More than 150 firefighters descended underground, tying ropes around Barone to keep him from slipping entirely beneath the mud.
He said he was trapped up to his thighs.
Barone’s left leg was freed early in the rescue mission, but it took three hours to remove his right leg.
Medics flushed Barone’s face with saline to keep his airways clean as the mud sucked him deeper into the hole and underground water threatened to rush over his head, officials said.
“Due to the suction effect of the mud, we couldn’t get him out,” said FDNY Chief Donald Hayde. “In my 36 years on the Fire Department, this is the most difficult tactical rescue operation that I’ve been involved in.”
EMS crews administered IVs while firefighters worked to get Barone out.
“I would say about an hour, he started shivering. We gave him some medicine for the hypothermia. We put sheets, warming blankets on him that we have, but we only can do so much when he’s covered with water,” said paramedic Lt. Rafael Goyenechea.
Barone described the experience.
He said “(to) try to keep me awake because I was getting cold, you know, try to keep me coherent and everything” was the rescue crews’ goal as they worked to pull him out.
The FDNY chaplain held Barone’s hand through it all.
“I just thought I can go down there, and keep him company, and say a prayer,” said FDNY Chaplain Stephen Harding.
Finally, dozens of firefighters tied ropes to Barone and added plywood around him before he was finally lifted to safety.
“They just dug by hand,” he said. “They had to get the mud out, get the water out with a pump, and move the water out.”
WATCH: Firefighters Free Worker Trapped Underground
A Con Edison vacuum truck helped remove debris. Three firefighters also suffered non-life threatening injuries in the process of rescuing Barone.
Rescuers said it was an incredibly challenging operation that was made worse by dangerous conditions.
“A patient completely covered with mud, I had to clear his face numerous times with water and saline to keep his airway open at one time the IV was not flowing properly, so I had to give him medicine intravenously, but we got the job done,” said Goyenechea.
Barone said he suffered just some bruising to his legs. His wife, Candy, was forever grateful to those who saved him.
“I’m very grateful to the Fire Department,” Candy Barone said. “Thank God they know what they’re doing.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority offered a look at the scene underground during the daylight hours Wednesday. Pipes and tubing were suspended beneath the messy and muddy trench, along with ropes and plywood left over from the rescue.
Meanwhile, MTA officials said they hope Barone can be back on the job soon.
“The gentleman is bruised. He is in stable condition. He is looking to come back to work and we are looking to have him back,” MTA President of Capital Construction Michael Horodniceanu told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond at the hospital on Wednesday afternoon.
Barone said getting back on the job would suit him just fine.
“I got to do what I got to do,” he said.
“He was ready to go back to work today,” added Candy Barone. “I said, ‘Are you crazy? You have an injury on your legs. You can’t even walk. How are you going to go back to work?'”
Meanwhile, Horodniceanu said new safety measures will be put in place in light of the incident.
“We are going to mark the area in order to make sure that people stay on the matting area,” he told Diamond. “We’re going to have harnesses on the employees just in case they do step into muck that we can hoist them out.”
Barone, who has worked in construction for 29 years, said he was injured on the job once before.
And although some others did not think he was going to make it out, Barone said he always knew he would be fine and never panicked.
And he had some words of gratitude for the rescue workers who came down to save him.
“Thank you very much. I appreciate it,” Barone said. “You guys are the best.”
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said work was suspended at the site for the investigation into the mishap. Construction was expected to resume as usual on Thursday morning, but Barone will not be returning to the job just yet.
The Second Avenue Subway project has been hit with many problems since it began.
Last August, an underground blast at 72nd Street sent chunks of concrete flying three stories into the air. The MTA said steel plates at the blast site were not properly secured. Construction was halted for several days while the MTA adjusted procedures.
In April of last year, a worker was crushed by a slab of concrete while working in a trench on 86th Street.
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