Best of Mess - Gerald Hastings

Near death survivor

Gerald Hastings relates the story of being rescued from a cave-in while doing sewer work.

Telling the story of a miracle is impossible for the writer and is equally difficult for the individual with a tale to tell.

About 10:45 Friday, Gerald Hastings, Isle, was trapped in a cave-in. He was buried beneath pounds of clay. He was gasping for what he thought was his last breath when the miracle happened–he felt the hand of his co-worker, Wayne Vivant, Wahkon.

Hastings, Denny Lemm and Wayne Vivant were repairing cracked sewer pipes at Burrows Resort, Isle. The job was about half completed when the west wall of the two-foot wide, 14-foot deep, 20-foot long trench collapsed, spilling compacted clay on top of Hastings. Lemm was in the hole at the time and jumped to avoid the falling dirt. Vivant was above, preparing to put fill into the whole.

When Vivant got near the hole, he hollered at Lemm and sidewalk superintendents Agnes Priem and Mr. and Mrs. Burrows, “Where the hell is Gerald?”

No one knew exactly where he was, but they knew was in the hole, buried.

Frantically, Vivant and Lemm dug with their hands. Lemm thought he saw the ground move. Vivant thought he heard a sound. They dug, miraculously over the spot Hastings was buried.

“The best damn thing I felt was was the hand hitting my head, feeling for my forehead and unplugging my nose and mouth,” Hastings said. He reflected on his moments laying beneath the clay wondering if he was going to die, “I thought, ‘I’ve made it this far, and now I won’t get to see the baby.’ I thought about that.”

In 1965, The Hastings lost a child. Judy Hastings, Gerald’s wife, is pregnant again, something doctors advised would never happen. She is ready to deliver any day.

“The most painful thing about laying there, waiting for help, was that you have no idea how much dirt is above you. You can hope it’s none or a little. You pray it isn’t so much that you are going to die,” Hastings said.

Hastings has a history of back problems. Lemm was sure Hastings would be found with a broken back.

While no one took time to measure the amount of dirt on Hastings, the men agreed later that it was about a foot, give or take a couple of inches.

“The only comparison I can make is that the chunk of clay was about as big as my dining room table,” Hastings said.

As soon as Hastings was out of the hole, Alice Stadig and Fred Gravel, Isle Ambulance crew members, placed an oxygen mask over his nose while the rest of his body was uncovered with shovels and a backhoe.

Hastings then went to tell Judy what had happened. “I didn’t want her to find out from somebody else,” Hasting said.

Then, he took a short trip to the clinic to check his ears, lungs and bones. Nothing was wrong. Hastings went to lunch–and then back to the trench.

“When you take on a job, you have to do it. The Burrows had to have their bathroom,” Hastings said.

Normally, Lemm and Hastings don’t work with sewer pipe replacements, although they have in the past. They clean septic tanks and cesspools and do roto rotor work. If the sewer pipe is faulty, they usually refer the owner to Vivant.

“I called Wayne, and he left a job and was short handed. I thought we would give him a hand and get done early,” Hastings said.

“Not many are buried alive and live to tell about it. Denny and Wayne have told about dirt slides covering them up to their waists, but they had never seen anything like that cave-in before,” Hastings said.

When the work was done and the hole was covered, Hastings looked at it and said, “Goodbye, I’ll never see another hole again.”

Somewhere in that hole are Hastings’ glasses, except for the one lens he found. He doesn’t care, he’s not going back to find the other.

“It’s a miracle. That’s all that can be said about it. That night, Gerald didn’t want to close his eyes to fall asleep. He was afraid they wouldn’t open again–that miracle hand wouldn’t be there,” Judy said.

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