By STAN MADDUX
MENTONE, Ind. — An Indiana farmer is lucky to have survived being sucked waist-deep into 15 feet of shelled corn.
Like many farmers right now, Jim Wise was emptying his grain bin on July 31 to make room for corn to be harvested in the fall, on his property near Warsaw in the northern part of the state. Wise, who grows corn and soybeans on several thousand acres in Mentone, said the full silo was half-empty when he climbed inside through an access door and ventured onto the corn.
He was using a pipe to break up clumps of corn that formed while the grain was being pulled out by an auger. When his son started the auger back up, Wise was pulled in from the whirlpool effect of the corn going down faster than he expected.
‘’I couldn’t walk my way out of it,’’ he explained.
Mentone Fire Chief Mike Yazel said Wise, with his handheld radio, notified his son, who tried pulling him out. He was too deep into the corn, though, and so his son called for help.
Yazel said firefighters went inside and, on top of the corn, placed crates to walk on to keep from sinking into the grain themselves. A tube was built around Wise. The rescue tube was driven into the corn as deep as possible then a separate auger used with it was turned on.
The corn around Wise’s lower body was sucked out from the tube until he could start moving his legs and step out of the quicksand-like grain two hours after he first sank in.
Wise said the accident was definitely not what he expected from something he’s done routinely over the years. “I didn’t think I was in harm’s way,” he added.
Yazel said farmers inside silos should always wear a harness with the end of the rope tied to something solid so that if the grain beneath their feet collapses, they don’t sink too deep. In this case, he said Wise did not use any safety devices while venturing across the grain.
Yazel said the pressure from getting buried in grain can start to become deadly, by the breathing problems created when it’s about chest-high. Suffocation results from being completely buried. He noted Wise is also fortunate because his son turned off the auger, which would have pulled him deeper into the grain.
Luck was also on his side from the corn above Wise’s head not collapsing. A funnel shape is created from grain being pulled out, and above the cavity is grain that can give way and cover somebody like an avalanche.
“He was very lucky,” Yazel said.
Strangely enough, through his generosity a few years ago, Wise ended up saving his own life – he helped purchase the equipment used in his rescue, and allowed his property to be used by the fire department for training in its use.
“It was kind of an ironic situation. They’ve been good to us, and we ended up returning the favor,” Yazel said.