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Elevator employee rescued from silo after being trapped for 8 hours

After nearly eight hours of confinement, a Farmington grain elevator manager was rescued from the corn silo he became trapped before noon Thursday.

Emergency crews pulled Mark Malecha to safety at around 7:30 p.m. Thursday, after the man spent the day trapped in a 45- 50-foot deep silo at the Farmington elevator. He fell into the silo at around 11:20 a.m.

Malecha became trapped as a semi truck was being filled with corn. He apparently went into the silo to try to loosen a clog. The corn below him shifted, and covered Malecha to his chest, pinning him against the structure's south wall.

The elevator is across the street from Farmington City Hall, and the truck driver ran across the street and asked a city employee to call 911. Emergency personnel were on the scene within minutes.

According to police chief Brian Lindquist, Farmington police, firefighters and area ambulance crews were the first to arrive. At first, Farmington fire/rescue personnel scaled the side of the silo, entering through the trap door on top. Finding that Malecha was about eight to 10 feet from the bottom of the silo, local rescue workers determined they would need help.

The Dakota County Special Operations Team was called. Farmington fire chief Tim Pietsch said the SOT has specific training in situations where the surroundings may collapse on a victim. In this case, that meant keeping the corn, which sloped up toward the north side of the silo, from shifting more and completely burying Malecha.

As an added precaution, Farmington fire marshal John Powers notified the railroad company of the situation and asked that all rail travel through downtown Farmington be suspended until the rescue attempt was complete. Powers said rescuers worried the vibrations from a passing train could cause the corn to shift more and suffocate Malecha.

A lot of patience

It was an afternoon of hurry-up and wait, as more and more fire departments and special operations teams arrived in the parking lot of city hall. Additional special operations teams arrived from Minneapolis and Edina. By late afternoon, a plan was set in motion.

That plan included cutting two holes into the silo -- one at the top, directly above Malecha, to lower rescue personnel and supplies into the corn; the second on the south side of the silo so firefighters could dump buckets of corn out as they scooped it from around Malecha's body.

Medics were lowered into the silo to check on Malecha. The report was he was alive, conscious and calm.

Before the corn could be dumped out, though, SOT members built a kind of plywood box around Malecha. Sending boards in one by one, emergency personnel inside the silo were able to gradually barricade Malecha from the outside corn.

Once that was in place, they set to scooping out the corn. By late afternoon, the corn had been lowered to Malecha's waist.

As soon as rescue workers were confident they could safely pull Malecha out, a body harness was attached. With Farmington firefighters working the ropes below, Malecha was slowly, carefully pulled through the opening at the top of the silo.

Covered with corn dust and wearing an oxygen tank on his back and an air mask on his face, Malecha was lowered to the ground around 7:30 p.m. While suspended in air, he moved his hands and feet.

Meanwhile, a number of his family members had gathered next to the waiting ambulance. Malecha was placed on a gurney and wheeled to the ambulance.

Before being placed inside, he gave the surrounding crowd a simple thumbs up. A few onlookers started to clap and cheer.

In a press conference afterward there was a doctor on board the ambulance, waiting to administer immediate care en route. A preliminary exam later at Hennepin County Medical Center revealed no broken bones or other serious injuries.

Lindquist also praised the cooperation of all of those who worked throughout the day. He thanked the many businesses that contributed food and beverages for the emergency personnel.

Malecha has been the manager at Feely Elevator since November, 2006.

The Farmington Independent is owned by Forum Communications, the parent company of the Woodbury Bulletin.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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