Buried in beans: Student has close call

By Taryn Gillepsie

HCC student Thomas Berntsen, Conway Springs, was caught in a deadly situation on March 20.

During Spring Break, Berntsen was working for the co-op in Conway Springs, located 30 miles southwest of Wichita.

He has worked for the co-op for four years and plans to start full-time upon graduation from Hutchinson Community College.

He had been asked to unclog a chute in the bottom of a soy bean bin.

“It was a routine cleaning of the bin and I got my harness and my tether line hooked up,” Berntsen said.

“I went down to the bottom to poke out the clog and it was deeper than I thought it was.”

“When I got it going and the grain started flowing I tried to get out and I was already knee deep.”

He was sinking, as grain below his feet fed into the chute. The situation was life-threatening.

“The rest of the grain was falling down on top of me and it was burying me so I started calling for help,” he said.

“My partner outside shut the chute off just before I got buried.”

Berntsen was stuck, chest-deep, for hours, wondering about his fate. The weight of tons of grain pressed in on his body.

“I was in the bin for almost eight hours,” Berntsen said.

“For the first 30 minutes to an hour it was very scary because I was worried about more grain that was sitting on shelves above my head falling down on top of me and burying me more.”

Berntsen they couldn’t use the traditional way to get him out of the bin.

This was a unique situation,” Berntsen said. “It would have been quicker and easier to get me out if I would have been belly or waist deep but the grain got so high that it was dangerous for my partner to get in the bin and pull me out like we would have done.”

With a high chance of a medical problem occurring they wanted to keep a close watch on Berntsen.

“They brought the life watch helicopters in about half way through the ordeal because they thought I would need it,” Berntsen said. “I was life watched to Via Christi overnight. Although I had no visible injuries the chance for Cardiac Arrest was about a 50/50 chance.”

In the past 50 years, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported with a fatality rate of 62 percent, according to researchers at Purdue University in Indiana.

“Many of these type of situations end up in critical condition or fatal so I was lucky to come out the way I did.” Berntsen said.

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