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Rescue was just a matter of time, Malecha says

Mark Malecha is pictured working at the elevator in December.2 / 2

There were plenty of people worried about Mark Malecha's safety when he got trapped in a corn silo Feb. 4. But Malecha insists he wasn't one of them.

He was stuck. There were people helping him. And as far as he was concerned that was pretty much the end of it.

"It was a lot easier on me inside than everybody outside," Malecha said Monday. "I was coming out at some point. It was just a question of when."

Malecha can't talk much about how he ended up stuck until OSHA completes its investigation, but emergency workers have said he went into the silo at Feely Elevator to loosen a clog. The corn shifted, and Malecha, the elevator manager, found himself up to his chest in frozen kernels. He had both arms free, though, and he was in contact by phone with people outside the silo.

Malecha was trapped on the south side of the silo and a mound of corn sloped away from him to the north. Rescuers worried the corn might slide down and bury Malecha, but Malecha said that's just because they're not familiar with corn. Water tries to find a level, he said. Corn tends to slope.

"The corn wasn't going to slide. It looked like a big wall," Malecha said. "Some might have shifted down, but that would have been more from walking through it."

With rescuers all suspended from ropes, Malecha knew that wouldn't be a problem. He knew it was just a question of waiting until rescuers could dig him out.

That took time. Rescuers worked for nearly eight hours to build a barricade around Malecha and scoop away enough corn so they could pull him free.

The waiting wasn't always easy. Standing in one position for eight hours with no way to move around was uncomfortable. The corn around him was frozen, but Malecha said outside of a chilly fingertip he never felt particularly cold.

Malecha was rarely alone during the rescue effort. Emergency workers talked to him constantly to keep him calm while they worked. He said that was never a problem.

"Panic never set in," he said.

Progress was slow, with rescuers digging corn away bucket by bucket. By a little after 7 p.m. they had gotten the corn down to his waist. From there, rescuers were able to hook a harness under his arms and pull him free. Once he was loose they attached a full harness and lifted him to safety.

Malecha came out the top of the silo around 7:30 p.m., a hardhat on his head and an oxygen tank on his back. He hung for a moment over the crowd of emergency workers and spectators, then was lowered slowly to the ground.

Malecha said he didn't look at the crowd while he was in the air. He focused instead on the group of firefighters waiting to collect him once he reached the ground. He moved his arms and legs a few times and gave a quick thumbs-up gesture.

"It was just a very happy feeling that I'm out," he said.

Once he was free Malecha was rushed to a waiting ambulance and taken to Hennepin County Medical Center. There were concerns the pressure of the corn could have caused toxins to build up in his blood but everything checked out fine. He could have been released that night, he said, but he asked to stay in the hospital overnight.

"It was 30 miles to home, the roads were crappy and it was 11 p.m. I knew if I stayed nothing would go wrong," Malecha said.

He also figured his wife was more likely to sleep soundly if she knew her husband was in good hands.

Malecha never felt like his life was in danger, but he still feels lucky. He feels lucky for the rescue workers who spent their day trying to free him, and for the Farmington businesses that donated food to the effort. He's thankful for the people who watched after his family while they waited and worried.

"What they did that day was wonderful," Malecha said. "We're so fortunate to have people who dedicate their lives to helping people."

Malecha was back at work four days after he was freed from the silo. He said he doesn't think too much about what happened, but it will always be in the back of his mind.

"It's something that happened," he said. "If you stub your toe, the next time you stub your toe you're going to think of the last time."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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