Maintenance worker swept away after falling into manhole in downtown Omaha

He was one of two workers with a Kansas City water maintenance company who fell through the hole Friday morning.
A pair of sewer workers fell into a storm drain in Downtown Omaha Friday morning. One of them traveled over a mile underground before being rescued.
Published: Jul. 7, 2023 at 10:15 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 7, 2023 at 10:47 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Rescue personnel have safely located the man who was swept away after a pair of sewer workers fell into a manhole in downtown Omaha.

Just after 9 a.m. Friday, the men, ages 41 and 50, fell into a sewer drain around 19th and Howard streets. The 50-year-old was rescued by Omaha Fire shortly after the fall via the pulley he was hooked to; the other man was swept into the underground system and trapped.

“Checking the sewers, popping the manholes, and just visibly looking down every one,” said OFD Battalion Chief Coby Werner. “The crew that was actually working on scene was a big help. They assisted us with popping those manholes. They used their camera system that they had to help locate this person.”

The search continued through the water system spanning several city blocks, further south from the original location, until authorities found him alive in a culvert near the pumping station on Jones Street close to the Missouri River -- roughly 1.2 miles from where he initially fell in.

First responders say they had two things working in their favor. The sewer pipes widen the closer to the river they get, growing from 36 to 90 inches in diameter -- which makes the sewer system fast to drain.

Two private contractors were rescued from a storm sewer in downtown Omaha Friday morning.

“We don’t know what’s underneath there, but we know about how wide the pipes are,” Omaha Fire Dept. Batallion Chief Jason Bradley said. “The pipes get progressively bigger the closer you get to the river, so we knew that if he could make it through here, at 19th and (Howard) where he went in, it was gonna get bigger down toward the area where we were searching.”

Officials say he had pulled himself out of the water but was still trapped by metal grates. OFD crews used rotary saws to cut the metal cover over the culvert and remove the victim at approximately 10:15 a.m. He was then transported to Nebraska Medical Center.

The 50-year-old received treatment but refused medical transport.

Both men were working for Ace Pipe Cleaning, a sewer and water maintenance company out of Kansas City, Mo., when the accident occurred.

Friday afternoon, Mayor Jean Stothert issued a statement commending the work of emergency personnel involved in the rescue.

Reporter John Chapman contributed to this report.