He was crushed by a jet — and lived

SEATTLE — Josh Divers remembers walking beside the giant 787 airplane as it was being slowly towed at Paine Field. It was about 5 p.m. on Feb. 3.

Suddenly, “two tires caught my feet,” he said, and he fell to the ground.

The airplane wheels rolled over his feet, crushing them. Divers said he was dragged about 12 feet.

The plane’s tires started to pull the hood from his sweatshirt under them and he pulled with all his might to keep from being swept under the tires again.

Divers said he yelled out to rescuers, “My femur just broke!” His hip and ribs were trapped.

Divers, 30, of Everett, said he repeated the words over and over, “yelling more or less because I was in so much pain … incredibly burning, horrible pain.

“I had a release of pain by yelling.”

Fellow workers rushed to help and quickly launched a rescue plan. Initially, they wondered if they should lift the plane with a forklift, but decided that would cause the plane’s tires to roll over him again.

“They ended up lifting the 35,000-pound engine with a jack ‘til my hips and ribs were free,” Divers said.

The accident had caused his work boots to be ripped from his feet. They stood about six feet way, “standing side by side straight up and like someone had just took them off,” he said.

Divers spoke publicly for the first time about the accident and his recovery during a news conference on Wednesday, just before being discharged from Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.

He was wheeled into a room with three of the doctors who treated him, and with his father, Del Divers of Arlington, and mother, Linda Lewis of Gresham, Ore., sitting nearby. His legs have been amputated below the knee.

When Divers arrived at Harborview’s emergency department on Feb. 3, they discovered crushing injuries to both legs, that his right femur had snapped and he had injuries to his upper left arm, said Dr. Douglas Smith, who specializes in orthopedics.

Divers said one of his first memories of being in the intensive care unit was briefly awakening and spotting blue medical booties on his feet. The next day his feet were gone.

His feet had been amputated near his ankles, the first of eight surgeries. Divers said he got the first inkling of how severely he had been injured when a nurse later told him they had been unable to save his legs.

Doctors worked hard to save both of Divers’ knees. Without knees, even with the best prosthetics, you can’t stand up, Smith said.

Next, doctors began grafting skin to Divers’ legs, with the final graft on his left side occurring on March 5.

The grafts will help Divers’ legs withstand the weight from walking on prosthetic legs.

Divers faces months of rehabilitation. “It’s not just that you have prosthetics made and then you’re up and walking,” said Dr. Janna Friedly, who works in the hospital’s rehabilitation unit.

“It’s extraordinarily difficult to walk on prosthetics on both limbs,” she said. “It’s really like walking on stilts when you walk on prosthetics on both sides.”

Patients begin with wearing their artificial legs about 15 minutes a day, increasing the time day by day to build up endurance, she said.

“Walking with prosthetics on both sides takes a lot more energy,” Friedly said. “It is analogous to training for a marathon.”

Divers will return to Harborview next week to begin his rehabilitation. “We think a year from now he’ll be up and walking around,” Smith said.

Divers said he still marvels that he survived. “It’s pretty incredible,” he said, but admits the reality of his double amputations “was kind of a shock.”

A safety inspection by the state Department of Labor and Industries is still under way, as are reviews of the accident by Boeing and Machinist union representatives.

A second Boeing employee, injured by a 747 wing flap on March 19, remains hospitalized in Harborview’s intensive care unit in serious condition.

Divers, however, said he has no concerns about safety issues at Boeing. “That’s No. 1 for Boeing,” he said.

The company has kept in regular contact “to make sure I get what I need,” he said. “They’ve helped out a lot.”

Diver said he hopes to return to work someday. “I really like working for Boeing.”

His father, Del Divers, who works for the Lake Stevens Fire Department, said although he initially knew few details about the accident, as soon as he heard that his son was being taken by helicopter to Harborview, he knew his son’s injuries were serious.

Family members went from the shock of learning that their son’s legs were being amputated to realizing how big a step it was to save his knees, Del Divers said.

“Josh is still intact,” he said. “He has a different way to go about life, but life is still there.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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