AIRPORT CONSTRUCTION ACCIDENT: Recovery operation stretches into 4th day

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(Source: Phoenix Fire Department) (Source: Phoenix Fire Department)
(Source: Phoenix Fire Department) (Source: Phoenix Fire Department)
(Source: Phoenix Fire Department) (Source: Phoenix Fire Department)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

It’s the fourth day of a delicate operation to recover the body of a drilling rig operator presumed dead after a hole collapsed causing the rig to topple over on Monday.

[TIMELINE: Construction accident at Sky Habor]

The accident happened while construction crews were working on the Sky Train guideway system at Sky Harbor International Airport. They were digging the holes for the concrete columns that will support the track connecting Terminal 3 with the rental car area.

"Rescuers now believe they have identified the general location of the missing crane operator. The recovery efforts will continue today with the same incident action plan in place," Capt. Rob McDade said early Thursday afternoon. "This work is very methodical, protects the rescuers and does not compromise the integrity of the scene."

McDade said he hoped to have an update later in the day.

When work resumed Wednesday morning, firefighters working on the treacherous operation still had a long way to go.

[WATCH RAW VIDEO: Phoenix Fire Dept. runs down the latest on airport construction accident]

[RELATED: Search for missing construction worker shifts from rescue to recovery operation]

The construction company, Hensel Phelps, is helping the firefighters and PFD's Technical Rescue Team with the recovery operation.

"Our focus right now is on supporting the recovery effort and on supporting the family," Hensel Phelps said in a statement sent to Arizona's Family Wednesday. "The identity of the missing worker is not being released out of respect for the family." (The company's full statement is at the bottom of this story.)

As of Tuesday night, recovery crews had gotten down to about 18 feet, a little more than halfway to the initial depth of the hole, Capt. Larry Subervi of the Phoenix Fire Department explained.

“The trench is pretty deep and pretty steep at this time so in order to make the area safer and not have to worry about a secondary collapse, the plan today is to excavate wider to make the slope more gradual,” Subervi said.

Once the hole is wider, crews will continue to work their way down to where the missing worker’s body is.

[SLIDESHOW: Heavy machinery topples near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport]

By Wednesday evening, crews had dug down 22 feet. The ground was still very unstable.

Subervi said teams will continue to use the vacuum trucks that were brought in Tuesday night. As of Wednesday evening, about 50 tons of dirt had been removed from the site.

While crews are hoping to get to the man's body Wednesday, they're not going to push it.

“We don’t have any sort of timeline because we don’t know how deep he is inside that trench at this time,” he said. “For us, the big thing now is to make the area safe ….”

The area is comprised of loose dirt, which is making things difficult -- and dangerous -- for the crews.

“When you’re in a city, the dirt’s all been dug up before," Subervi explained. "We consider it all unstable non-compacted dirt.”

While the goal is to recover the rig operator's body, the work is slow and methodical. It has to be.

[ORIGINAL STORY: 1 missing after drilling rig topples near Sky Harbor]

“The biggest thing we can do for him and honor him right now is to make sure nobody else is injured,” Subervi said.

That’s why the operation is not running 24/7. Working at night by its nature is more dangerous, even with good lighting.

“If we were in a rescue mode, we would continue to work … risk a lot, save a lot,” Subervi said. “In the recovery mode, it just doesn’t make sense to take the additional risk for the rescuers.”

Crews were able to safely remove the fallen drilling rig Tuesday. It took two large cranes to do it.

Subervi said the work the construction crew was doing was fairly routine. It's not clear what went wrong.

"Hensel Phelps places the highest value on safety and, upon completion of the recovery effort, this incident will be thoroughly investigated so we understand what led to this incident," the company said in its statement.

Hensel Phelps Statement on Sky Harbor Airport Incident Recovery
"Hensel Phelps is currently assisting Phoenix Firefighters and Technical Rescue Teams working to locate a missing worker following an incident with a drill rig operated by our subcontractor, Case Foundations, at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

"At approximately 9:30 Monday morning, the drill rig was drilling a hole for one of the piers that would support the guideway for the new Skytrain connection between Terminal Three and the airport rental car facility.

"Our focus right now is on supporting the recovery effort and on supporting the family.

"The identity of the missing worker is not being released out of respect for the family.

"Hensel Phelps places the highest value on safety and, upon completion of the recovery effort, this incident will be thoroughly investigated so we understand what led to this incident."

(Pick up where you left off reading.)


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