CASTLETON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Charles Krammin, longtime administrator for the federal farm loan program in Barry County, has seen his share of farm tragedies, like the one that happened Thursday morning.
“I know of two deaths in the area of similar situations,” Krammin said.
Robert Othmer, a 72-year-old man from Vermontville, died after he was trapped inside one of the grain silos on his farm on the 10000 block Coats Grove Road in northeast Barry County.
Othmer and other family members were unloading grain from the silo when the accident occurred.
Early indications show his safety harness failed when he was pulled into the grain, which filled about half of the silo.
“He was submerged in the grain for an unknown period of time… they think maybe 15 to 20 minutes,” said Wayne Gould, assistant fire chief for Castleton-Maple Grove-Nashville Fire Department.
It’s not an uncommon tragedy.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 16 people died in 20-grain silo accidents between 2013 and 2018.
In many cases, moisture hardens the top layer of grain inside a silo creating a sort of bridge.
As grain underneath the top layer is removed, it creates voids.
“And if you walk into try to free up that bridge grain, it collapses, and sucks you right in,” Krammin said.
There is speculation that’s what happened in Thursday’s incident.
Rescuers from three area fire departments, who train for agriculture rescues, also had to take a cautious approach. If they rushed inside, they could have become victims.
“And it’s futile try and dig somebody out when they’re submerged like that. More grain keeps coming in as you try to remove it,” Gould said, who also called in a regional rescue team with expertise in technical rescues.
There are also dangers of sparks setting off dust explosions.
Therefore, crews cut small holes in the side of the silo to drain as much of the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 bushels of corn out as possible.
They eventually reached Othmer, but it was too late.
“In a close community, you know people, and it’s difficult,” Gould said.
Aero Med was also called to the scene but did not transport the patient.