Virgil Rose isn’t particularly religious.
But when piles of dirt collapsed on top of him in north Spokane on Thursday, the 35-year-old says he prayed like never before.
“I asked for forgiveness,” he said from his hospital bed Friday. “I was sure my time was up.”
Rose was covered by an avalanche of dirt as he worked in a 30-foot ditch on U.S. Highway 395 just south of Regina.
Crews are working on a $9 million county sewer project and had just finished boring under the highway. They were digging in an area where the soil was especially wet and sandy.
The first cave-in came shortly before 5 p.m., and left Rose buried to his knees. Co-workers yelled for him to get out, but before he could move a second load of dirt tumbled on top of him.
Knowing what was coming, Rose made an air pocket over his head with his arms as the earth collapsed around him. Nearly 20 years in construction safety training told him he had just a few minutes of air.
It also reminded him of the chance he had to make it out alive.
“Every safety class I’ve been to, all the training, they always said if this happens to you it will probably end in body recovery,” Rose said, tears welling in his eyes as he stared at the ceiling of his hospital room.
He surprised co-workers and rescue teams by not only surviving the cave-in but escaping virtually unharmed. A sore leg gave him the most trouble Friday, and several cuts across his knuckles looked red and puffy.
“They used shovels to dig me out and got a little close,” said Rose, rubbing the back of his hand. “They keep apologizing to me about that, but I don’t mind one bit.”
While he was buried, Rose said, breathing became more difficult every second and the dirt pressed relentlessly against his 58-inch chest. He couldn’t move a single finger or toe.
“I didn’t have but a couple of minutes to think,” he said. “But it was a lifetime’s worth.”
Then he blacked out.
Rose doesn’t remember feeling the air against his face more than five minutes later, or the oxygen mask being slapped over his nose and mouth. He can’t recall hollering loudly from the ditch - no words, just enough noise for more than 100 people who had gathered to help to realize he was OK.
He vaguely remembers the helicopter ride to Sacred Heart Medical Center, but draws a blank at most of what came next.
“He kept saying he thought he was still in the ditch,” said his wife, Cathy. “They had him on (the stretcher) and he kept asking me if he was out yet.”
Rose said he felt that way because gritty sand clung to his body, even after he got to the hospital.
On Friday, dirt still was stuck in his beard and caked stubbornly to his scalp. It filled the crescents beneath his fingernails and scratched the insides of his ears. Small sprinkles of sand appeared on his hospital mattress every time he moved.
No one seemed to mind.
“I don’t think anyone else could have made it,” his friend, Scott Jernigan, told him at the hospital Friday. “But you did it. It’s incredible.”
Rose smiled, catching a tear that dripped out of the corner of his eye.
“I need a shower,” he said.