A building inspector wedged for nearly four hours at the bottom of a hole 66 feet deep and 2 1/2 feet wide was in critical condition Tuesday after an urban rescue team hoisted him to safety in Valencia.
Jaime Lozoya, 32, a contract employee with the city of Santa Clarita, tumbled into the shaft about 10:30 a.m. while working at a residential construction site.
Authorities and witnesses said Lozoya, a Downey resident, fell into the pit--one of several that pock the empty lot at 23948 Via Onda--after he peeled off the plywood covering over its opening. It was unclear whether Lozoya accidentally stepped into the hole or whether the edge of the hole collapsed beneath him. State occupational safety officials are investigating.
Carpenter Bob Howard said he screamed at fellow workers at the site to call for help, which came several minutes later.
"If I hadn't seen him fall, everyone would've kept working," Howard said.
County firefighters directed the delicate operation of hoisting Lozoya out, sending down members of an urban search-and-rescue team from Redondo Beach.
Lozoya, calm and lucid, complained of back pain as three rescue workers were lowered into the hole, one at a time, trying to slip a harness around the trapped inspector and handing him Gatorade to ward off dehydration. Oxygen, in short supply at the bottom of the shaft, was piped in.
As the rescue effort wore on, watched by reporters and neighbors, Lozoya's condition worsened.
Larry Collins, captain of the rescue unit and the first down the shaft, said Lozoya, whose legs were wedged tightly and painfully beneath him, began floating in and out of consciousness.
"I felt really sorry for him when they said I had to come out and leave him down there," said Collins, who emerged dizzy and with a sprained neck after spending an hour in the hole, part of the time upside down. "He was in bad shape."
Finally, it was Lozoya himself who enabled rescuers to pull him out shortly after 2 p.m., officials said.
"The victim went unconscious on me, and I think that probably helped, because he ended up relaxing," said Corky Cook, an engineer with the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the last of the three rescue workers who descended into the pit.
As he was lifted out in his T-shirt and jeans, Lozoya went into cardiac arrest and had to be revived by cardiopulmonary resuscitation, fire officials said. He was taken by ambulance to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, where officials say Lozoya's family has asked that changes in his condition be kept confidential.
Lozoya worked for the Anaheim-based company Willdan and Associates, a building inspections firm that the city of Santa Clarita has employed for several years, according to Assistant City Manager Ken Pulskamp.
Pulskamp said Lozoya was regularly out at the location, where two homes damaged in the Northridge earthquake had been razed to make way for new construction. At the time of the accident, construction crews were working to fill the holes--about 20 in all--with concrete and steel reinforcements for seismic safety.
The property is fenced off from the public. A sign warns would-be trespassers of "open pile excavations" and the possibility of severe injury.
John Duncan, a spokesman with Cal/OSHA in Sacramento, said an investigation into the accident would begin today.
Construction Site Rescue
Firefighters rescued a building inspector trapped in a deep, narrow shaft Tuesday at a residential construction site in Valencia. The chain of events is shown below.
1. At 10:40 a.m., Jaime Lozoya falls into a shaft while examining it at site where quake-damaged home was razed.
2. Lozoya becomes wedged feet-first at bottom of shaft, which is 66 feet deep and 30 inches wide.
3. Rescuers criss-cross ladders over hole and attach ropes to it. First of three rescuers is lowered by rope, but he is unable to make it down.
4. Second rescuer is lowered and fits chest harness on Lozoya. After 1 1/2 hours, this rescuer had to exit shaft.
5. Third rescuer is lowered and attaches ropes to Lozoya's harness.
6. Both rescuer and Lozoya are hoisted to safety by about 12 firefighters aboveground. CPR is administered to Lozoya.
Source: Los Angeles County Fire Department