Conway Springs grain bin worker rescued from grain elevator

Nearly seven hours after a grain elevator worker fell into a bin of grain in Conway Springs, the 21-year-old man was pulled to safety.

Thomas L. Bernsten entered the elevator bin to do maintenance work shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday, said Conway Springs police Chief Kelley Zellner. Bernsten was wearing a harness and rope and was with other maintenance workers.

“The grain shifted when he was working, and the grain at the bottom of those elevators have a bottom on them that acts just like a funnel in a tornado,” Zellner said.

Bernsten could feel the grain shifting and called out to the other workers.

Many grain elevator accidents often end in death as workers suffocate or are crushed by the weight of pressing grain.

“Over the past three decades, more than 680 Kansans have been killed on the job. Nearly one in 10 died while working at a grain elevator. The 60 grain elevator deaths include three painters who fell 125 feet from the top of an elevator in Jetmore in 1982,” The Wichita Eagle reported on May 24, 2010. “They include four members of a cleaning crew that was in the DeBruce Grain elevator south of Wichita when it exploded in 1998.”

But on Tuesday, local EMS personnel and Zellner quickly responded. Seven technical rescue team crews from the Wichita and Sedgwick County fire departments were sent to Conway Springs, and an Eagle Med crew was en route to receive Bernsten when he was extricated at 8:25 p.m. Tuesday.

Throughout it all, rescue crews were able to maintain contact with Bernsten. He was taken by helicopter to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita.

“He is in fair health,” Zellner said.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner