INDIANAPOLIS — An 81-year-old Indiana farmer survived the crushing grip of an avalanche of corn inside a grain bin in part because he’s “10 times tougher than the average guy,” one of his relieved sons said Wednesday.
Bill White was saved Monday afternoon by fast-thinking relatives and farmhands who drove plywood boards into the corn around him and dug him out enough to give him oxygen and keep him breathing. They then wrapped a sheet beneath his arms and around his chest and pulled. The 40-minute rescue ended when he finally emerged from the grain.
He was initially taken to a local hospital, but airlifted to an Indianapolis hospital after he began coughing up blood, apparently from the pressure of that much corn on his chest, said son Steve White, 46.
After leaving the hospital Tuesday, Bill White eagerly returned to work Wednesday, helping troubleshoot a problematic irrigation system on his family farm near Switz City, some 60 miles southwest of Indianapolis.
“My dad, he’s 81 years old, but he’s 10 times tougher than the average guy. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever seen,” Steve White said Wednesday afternoon, adding that his father is feeling fine aside from some respiratory troubles.
Bill White would rather not discuss his ordeal, but said Wednesday the incident is reminder about the dangers of grain bins. He said he’s glad to be back at work and “pulling my weight.”
“I’m like a caged animal if I’m not doing something. I don’t like to golf and I don’t like to fish, so I’m back out here at it,” said White, who’s been married 61 years to his wife, Phyllis.
The family patriarch was helping farmhand David Dinn clear out corn that had become wet and was clogging the inside of the 100-foot-tall, 63-foot diameter grain bin. When Dinn stepped away momentarily, Bill White entered a ground-level door to remove more of the grain and was suddenly buried. The grain cascaded down a pile sloped at about a 75-degree angle in two waves, Steve White said, burying his father first up to his chest and then swallowing nearly all of him.
Dinn quickly summoned help. Steve White’s 24-year-old son, Jordan, ran to the bin and found only his grandfather’s fingers protruding above the corn.
Jordan, an emergency medical technician, said he quickly cut pieces of plywood small enough to enter the bin’s door. He, his 19-year-old brother, Jakeb, and some local fire department members drove the wood into the grain around the trapped man and used buckets to dig away some of the corn.
With Bill White’s head and chest exposed, they cleared corn from his mouth and nose and gave him oxygen. Once he was breathing, they began trying to pull him out with the sheet, Steve White said.
“You’ve got five or six strong guys just pulling their guts out and he just wouldn’t budge,” he said. “It’s like quicksand.” They finally pulled him free.
Jordan, Jakeb and their dad are all members of the local fire department and have been trained in grain bin rescues — training that helped save Bill White.
Steve Wettschurack, a grain bin safety specialist at Purdue University, said the pressure of grain adds about 365 pounds to the weight of someone trapped in grain, making extricating them extremely difficult.
“We call it the hourglass effect — it pulls so hard on your legs and your body that it’s impossible for you to get out on your own,” he said.
Wettschurack said that while deaths from tractor rollovers, long the leading cause of farm-accident deaths, have fallen over the years, grain bin deaths have not seen the same decline. He said farmers should never work alone in one and need to make sure all grain-moving equipment is turned off.
“In 60 seconds, you could be 60 feet under the grain,” Wettschurack said.