Washington man trapped in sinkhole for 24 hours

Posted at 9:17 AM, Feb 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-08 09:17:43-05

PIERCE COUNTY, WA (KCPQ/CNN) – A logger wasn’t sure he’d ever see the light of day again after he fell in a sinkhole Monday afternoon.

"Yeah, it was dark in there like you wouldn't believe, and the hole kept getting darker and darker and darker,” Bill Burke said. “It was cold, real cold."

Burke spent nearly 24 hours underground after falling roughly 16 feet down the hole while at his logging job just outside Montaseno.

"Next thing I know, one foot went down and then both my feet went down, and next thing I know I'm up to my arms, and then all at once all the sticks and everything that was holding me up broke and down I went," Burke said.

He clawed away at the soil for hours to get free, making a large mound he could use to climb.

An experienced logger, Burke always carries a whistle. He blew it all through the night.

Fortunately, Jimmy Stennett – Burke’s logging buddy and a former firefighter – had agreed to help him on the job Tuesday morning.

"I'm waiting, and his wife calls me at 6:17 and she says, 'Have you seen Bill?' And I says, ‘No,’ and she says, 'Well, he never called last night,'" Stennett said.

Stennett started searching the woods, where he found Burke’s empty truck. Fearing the worst, Stennett continued his search.

He drove back to an area with cellphone service and called Burke’s wife and 911. He then continued his search for Burke, eventually finding a clue the trapped man had cleverly tossed above ground.

"And over to my left I see his hard hat under some ferns, and so I walked over, reached down and picked it up,” Stennett said. “And when I picked it up I see a hole about this big on the other side, and I look down and see movement, and I said 'Bill,' and he looked up and said, ‘Jimmy!’"

Rescue crews arrived on the scene and freed Burke from the sinkhole.

"I had a sneaking hunch that if anybody was going to figure this out, if Jimmy made it down there, he'd be the one," said Burke, thankful for the friend who found him in the dark.

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