Man describes 4 days of being trapped in Salt Lake County tunnel
As Daniel Samuelsen lay underground, a broken bone protruding through the skin on his leg, he could hear dozens of cyclists and walkers coming and going just a few feet overhead on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.
Samuelsen said he grabbed a rock and began beating on the tunnel where he was trapped. He banged and screamed for help, but for three days his pleas were drowned out by the nearby freeway traffic.
"I could hear them, but they couldn't hear me. That was just awful," Samuelsen said Sunday, a day after he crawled down a series of drainage tunnels that empty near the interchange of interstates 215 and 80 near Foothill Drive.
On Wednesday morning, Samuelsen, 33, and a friend hiked to a segment of pipe that slopes uphill from the Bonneville Shoreline Trail near the mouth of Parley's Canyon. A few months ago, Samuelsen, an avid hiker, had dropped into the pipe and followed the subsequent drain tunnels to Tanner Park, on the other side of the freeway. He wanted to guide his friend down the exciting "shortcut," as he calls it, but as the two men approached the entrance, Samuelsen noticed that a rope he used to scale the pipe on that first expedition had been removed.
Descending without the rope was too dangerous, Samuelsen decreed, so his friend left. Samuelsen stayed to explore awhile longer. As he assessed the slope of the pipe again, he thought he could still make the climb.
"That was a serious lack of judgment," Samuelsen said, shaking his head.
As he crawled inside, his Vans shoes slipped on the pipe. Suddenly he was on his back, sliding down "so fast, there was no stopping me faster, faster, faster, faster, then boom!"
Samuelsen said he heard his leg crack as his feet hit level ground about 50 feet below the opening. Doctors have told him that the compound fracture could require them to amputate his leg, he said.
He tried to pull himself up the pipe sideways while pushing with his good leg, to no avail. He scooted to the next sloping tunnel segment, which drops from the trail to below the freeway. He said he couldn't find an angle to protect his broken leg. So he shouted for hours. Night fell, and Samuelsen propped up his leg on his backpack.
He woke Thursday with little hope, Samuelsen said. He lives in a homeless shelter and works as an independent taxi driver, so no one likely would notice his absence. He had run out of ideas to save himself, and "screaming for help kind of depleted my energy," he said. So he went back to sleep.
By Friday, dehydration, hunger and injury had further weakened Samuelsen's body.
"I was pretty convinced I was going to die," he said.
On Saturday, Samuelsen said he thought in detail about the prospect of waiting for dehydration to finish him off, suffering alone in the dark with his broken leg.
"Some stronger motivation came over me," he said, and he noticed a piece of wood on the floor of the tunnel.
"It was perfect, he said."
He pried his shoe off his swollen foot and used the laces to lash the board to his leg, along with a travel pillow he kept in his pack for nights at the homeless shelter. Splinted, his broken leg could make the trip down the lower tunnels, he reasoned.
Samuelsen flattened his body against the slope, raised his broken leg and began to slide slowly.
"I was screaming in fear pretty much the whole way down," he said. At the bottom, he scooted another 100 yards or so to the opening near Tanner Park, he said. Samuelsen backed through weeds and shrubs to an orange construction barrel, where he flagged down help.
"I said, 'Oh, my God, I'm going to survive,' " he recalled.
Sunday, in his bed at St. Mark's Hospital, Samuelsen waited for the verdict on his right leg and drifted between relief for his rescue and regret for acting against his better judgment. He strongly urged explorers to stay out of the tunnels.
"I'll never do that again," he said.