KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Hopes faded rapidly after crews spent 90 minutes frantically popping manhole covers in a desperate search for a worker who was swept into a sanitary sewer pipe that runs underneath a Kansas City suburb, a rescue worker recalled Wednesday.
Workers even lowered a small camera used to locate blockages in the 27-inch pipe that runs under the city of Raymore, but they repeatedly found no signs of Daniel Collins on Tuesday. Then, more than a mile away from where Collins became unhooked from his safety line and pushed into the pipe, they heard a voice.
"He called out just loud enough for us to hear him," South Metropolitan Fire District Chief Randy Adams said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Collins had come to rest at the bottom of a concrete collector box and was curled in the fetal position to conserve body heat.
"The more manholes that you open and the longer that you search it just becomes more and more apparent that maybe this isn't going to have a good outcome, so when you do finally crack a manhole and he's in there then it's a powerful moment," Adams said.
Collins was still wearing has safety harness, and firefighters attached a rope to it and used it to help pull him from 8-foot by 10-foot chamber.
The firefighters had no blankets with them so they began shedding their own coats, shirts and sweaters, and piling the clothes on the scratched and bruised man to keep him warm. Adams said Collins could say his name but "wasn't completely coherent."
Adams said there was elation as the medical helicopter lifted off with Collins inside, taking him to a hospital where he could be treated for hypothermia and given antibiotics. Adams said he and other firefighters are praying for Collins and his family.
"It's easy to put yourself in it when you've seen the conditions and understand his ordeal," Adams said. "He traveled in pitch dark in this cold sewage for I don't know how long. We don't know if he went straight through, whether there were starts and stops, but traveling that far in the pitch dark, not knowing what you are going to hit, not knowing when you are going to stop, not knowing if you are going to come out."
Adams said one of the biggest worries is that Collins will develop an infection because he likely inhaled and swallowed sewage. Collins remained in critical condition Wednesday at Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, said hospital spokeswoman Kerry O'Connor.
She said Collins' wife declined to release a statement.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating what happened, Labor Department spokesman Rich Kulczewski said.
Collins was tethered when he descended into the sewer. It was unclear how he became unhooked.
Raymore officials said Collins' employer, Rosetta Construction of Springfield, had been contracted to work on parts of the city's sewer system. A woman who answered the phone at Rosetta Construction said there would be no comment.
Raymore's City Manager Eric Berlin said it was his understanding that this marked the first time that the city had used the company.
"We were expecting the worst to be honest," Berlin said. "We are very, very thankful that he was found alive and very hopeful that he will be able to make a complete recovery."