A surgeon amputated a man's leg to free him after he was found trapped under tons of metal inside a train car at a Salt Lake City rail yard Thursday afternoon.
The train left Denver early Thursday morning with the 19-year-old homeless man and his dog inside one of the open cars transporting strips of plate steel, said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Ron Morris. At some point in the journey, the steel shifted and buried the man from his waist down. The fallen steel also killed the dog.
A railway worker found the man, who was not immediately identified, around 1:10 p.m. at the Union Pacific Roper Rail Yard, 650 West and Davis Road (2190 South). At that point, Morris estimates the man had been pinned for about eight hours, but he was still conscious.
Firefighters tried to lift the steel off of him, but it proved too heavy. They tried again with a crane, but that proved too painful for the man, Morris said.
At that point, they flew in a surgeon from University Hospital on a helicopter for the amputation. The surgeon brought sterile sheets with him to place around the man and all of the equipment in the rail yard was shut down to create as clean an environment as possible, Morris said.
"It was a tedious, slow extrication," Morris said. About two hours after the railway worker found him, the surgeon had cut off the man's leg near the middle of his femur and freed him from the metal.
Emergency responders carried him out of the railcar and onto a second medical helicopter to fly him to the hospital. Morris could not say which leg was cut off, but said there also were significant injuries to his other leg, and that it will be a long recovery for the man.
Morris said it was hard to say whether surgeons would be able to reattach his lost leg; generally with crush-type injuries to the limb, reattachment is less likely.
Police are waiting to identify the man until they've had a chance to notify his family. The man and his rescuers did not talk about much besides the extrication, and he was losing consciousness as the process went on, so they don't know much about the man or if he's originally from the Denver area, Morris said.