10 Terrifying Tales of Grain Entrapment

When we imagine farming accidents, most of us probably picture someone falling off of a tractor or getting kicked by a cow. The image of being swallowed alive by thousands of bushels of grain, however, probably didn’t cross your mind. Unfortunately, such spine-chilling cases of grain entrapment affected 24 individuals in the U.S. in 2015, resulting in 14 fatalities. These petrifying reports attest to the horrors of grain entrapment.

10.) A Soybean Sinkhole

One morning in 2015, 39-year-old Eric Reasland entered a silo on the farm where he worked. Unlike most of the annual soybean crop, this harvest was being stored on the farm where it was produced. To help the soybeans flow into transport trucks under the silo, Reasland broke up a crust that had formed on top of the beans. The farm owner waited on the ground while running an auger, a screw-shaped conveyor used to drain grain from silos.

A few minutes later, the farm owner checked up on Reasland, only to discover that he had vanished. Five different fire departments were called. The silo was cut in five places and vacuums were used to remove the soybeans surrounding the man. Though Reasland was ultimately uncovered, he had been buried for too long. He was pronounced dead later that day.

9.) Corn Crushes Miller

Cleaning the inside of a silo can be a tricky job. In 2008, a 23-year-old German mill worker learned this lesson the hard way. While cleaning the inside of an 82-foot-tall corn silo, the man is believed to have detached himself from his safety harness to wash a part of the silo that was just out of reach.

Within five minutes, however, the man was knee-deep in corn. The grain, which is involved in over 50% of documented entrapment cases in the United States, proved to be dangerous once again. By the time the fire department arrived, the man was submerged up to his chest and was no longer breathing. An emergency doctor declared him dead at the scene.

If this unlucky man had lived in another era, he might have avoided this strange fate; up until the 1960s corn was virtually unknown as a crop in much of Germany.

8.) Panic at the Peanut Plant

Most of us know that severe peanut allergies can lead to life-threatening suffocation. For one 42-year-old Virginian, however, peanut asphyxiation struck in a far more shocking manner. Calvin Branch, a peanut company employee, was using a grain elevator to fill semi-trucks with peanuts when the flow of nuts on the elevator stopped. Branch entered the storage area to correct the problem. Two hours later, fellow employees began searching for Branch, who had gone missing.

Emergency response workers cut holes in the sides of the peanut warehouse, hoping to rescue Branch, but it was too late. He had died of asphyxiation, buried beneath pounds of peanuts. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration later examined the case. 15 safety violations were discovered, resulting in nearly $50,000 in fines for the facility. Though the majority of entrapment cases affect farmers, entrapment can also occur at commercial plants, as seen in this tragic situation.

7.) Radio Aids Rescue

2010 was a record-breaking year in the history of grain entrapment. Over 51 Americans fell prey to entrapment. Roughly half of those individuals died. Buddy Schumacher, however, was one of the lucky ones.

The 52-year-old Wisconsinite was walking across crusted corn in a silo when the kernels gave way beneath him. The farmer fought to free himself for nearly 15 minutes before using his radio to call his son. Luckily, Schumacher’s son had just grabbed his walkie-talkie. Now chest-deep in grain, Schumacher compared the sensation to being stuck in solid concrete. After a five-hour rescue mission, the farmer was freed. Left “stiff, sore, black and blue,” the incident was a jarring reminder of the importance of grain bin safety.

Annette Pacas and Will Piper visit the grave of Annette’s son, Alex.

6.) The Sole Survivor

Wyatt Whitebread, 14, had started his new job at a grain storage facility two weeks before tragedy struck. Also newly-hired were Whitebread’s friends, Alex Pacas, 19, and Will Piper, 20. That day, the trio had grabbed their picks and were hacking away at chunks of rotten corn in a grain bin, hoping to unclog a drainage hole at the bottom of the silo. The plant supervisor, however, opened a second drainage hole, sucking Whitebread down into the flowing corn. Pacas and Piper attempted to rescue their friend but soon found their bodies submerged, too. Whitebread then disappeared altogether. Piper, whose arms remained free, frantically shifted corn away from Pacas’ face, trying to save his friend.

Soon, Pacas was gone. Buried beneath bushels of corn, brain death struck Whitebread and Pacas within minutes. Though Piper survived, he remains tormented by the sights and sounds of that fateful day. The willful violation of numerous safety standards contributed to this horrific and heartbreaking tragedy.

5.) Canola Consumes Children

We often hear that the loss of a child is one of the most painful experiences imaginable. In 2015, Roger and Bonita Bott of Alberta, Canada experienced this loss threefold. Catie, 13, and twins Dara and Jana, 11, were playing on a transport truck filled with canola. Suddenly, they were engulfed by the slippery grain. Though emergency responders rushed to the scene, the three girls ultimately died. The heartbroken farming family was left with one son.

Historically, most grain transport vehicle deaths have involved children. For children, grain entrapment cases are particularly deadly; according to U.S. statistics, over 80% of entrapped youths under the age of 16 were killed in 2010.

4.) British Boy Buried

The year was 1997. James McKay, a 14-year-old British student, was the only one in his class to request a work placement position on a farm. Though his mother fretted over the dangers of farm work, the boy assured her that she had nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, James’ mother was right. While sweeping the sides of a silo, the boy fell into the wheat below. The grain, which was being drained from the silo, swiftly enveloped the youth. His lifeless body was uncovered hours later.

Between 2005 and 2015, 336 agricultural fatalities were reported in the United Kingdom. Among those were 4 grain-related asphyxiation deaths. The nation currently produces over 35 billion pounds of wheat annually.

3.) Wheat Worker Disappears

Though most of us survive our workplace mishaps, one wheat plant employee was less fortunate. One fateful day, Danny Long mistakenly transferred wheat into the wrong silo. Long and the president of the company climbed into the silo to set up a suction-based conveyor for removing the wheat. The president then departed, leaving Long alone. 20 minutes later, an employee on the ground noticed the conveyor shuddering. After shutting it off, he entered the silo, searching for Long.

An emergency team later found Long’s body buried under feet of wheat. Long likely sunk quickly; a man of average height may find himself fully submerged in moving grain in just 11 seconds. Disturbingly, Long’s body was found less than three feet away from the conveyor hose; his corpse had nearly been vacuumed up.

This incident, which occurred in 1989, resulted in a paltry $1,120 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Though the federal agency often issues harsher fines, appeals have been known to reduce these charges by up to 96%.

2.) Drudgery Turned Deadly

18-year-old Tommy Osier was enjoying his new farming job. The high school student found joy in working with cows but dreaded clearing the crusted corn off of the ceiling and sides of the farm’s silo. One day, while performing the tedious chore, the corn above Tommy came toppling down. The corn beneath his feet collapsed, too, burying him within seconds.

35 men toiled for more than 4 hours to remove Tommy’s dead body from the silo. The teen’s jaw had been dislodged by the pressure. Corn kernels were found in his lungs. The tremendous demand for corn-based food, animal feed, and ethanol fuel has contributed to the increasing frequency of such grain entrapment cases. Since 1964, more than 220 teens under the age of 18 have died while working with grain.

1.) A Miraculous Mask

Arick Baker was tired of breaking up clumps of rotten corn inside his family’s silo. Left alone in the silo one day, the 23-year-old swiftly became entrapped. Only one thing prevented him from dying within minutes. Due to his asthma, Baker wore a battery-operated ventilation mask. This mask prevented corn from being forced into his mouth and nose.

Though Baker was rescued, he was not without injury. Thousands of kernels were embedded in his skin. One of his feet was nearly crushed. If he been five years older, his heart may have exploded.

As corn harvests increase, entrapment cases will likely rise. U.S. corn production used 94.1 million acres of land in 2016, the equivalent acreage of the entire state of Montana.

Note: This article was written in a “top 10” style as a submission for a popular list website. Personally, I wish I had covered the subject of grain entrapment from a more thoughtful angle in a long-form style article. Maybe that will be a future project. For more information regarding grain entrapment, I would particularly recommend this informative NPR article and this moving piece from The Atlantic.

I hope this list has been an eye-opening and informative read. I appreciate your feedback and comments!