A county supervisor died Tuesday morning in a bizarre grain bin accident near Missouri Valley, Iowa.
Russ Kurth, 63, and another man, were checking on a door of the bin that had been leaking corn, Harrison County Sheriff Pat Sears told The Daily Nonpareil newspaper in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
As the men approached the bin, the door malfunctioned or failed for some reason and burst open. Corn came gushing out like an avalanche, burying Kurth.
The other man was able to escape, but couldn’t save Kurth, local media reported. Sears said the new bin had recently been filled, reported the Des Moines Register.
Local fire and rescue units pulled Kurth out of the corn more than an hour after he was buried and he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, according to the Register.
Working around grain bins can be dangerous business, and entrapment accidents like the one that killed Kurth are on the rise, according to a yearly injury and fatality report issued by Purdue University.
The school keeps a database on accidents in confined agricultural spaces, at least those that get reported. Many do not.
In 2016, Purdue documented 29 accidents involving grain entrapment accidents, 11 falls into or from grain storage structures, 10 asphyxiations in toxic environments and eight accidents involving entangled equipment inside confined agricultural spaces.
That was a 25 percent hike in the number of cases Purdue documented in 2015, the university’s report says.
The most common grain involved in entrapment accidents is corn. According to The Progressive Farmer magazine, there are 10,000 commercial grain sites and 300,000 storage units on farms in the country.
“It takes only a matter of seconds to be consumed by a moving grain flow,” William Field, Purdue professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and director of the school’s Agricultural Confined Spaces program, told the magazine.
Trapped in chest-high grain a person can suffocate quickly. Submerged in grain, it can take just four seconds for a person to become trapped to the point of helplessness, Field said.
A person will naturally keep their mouth closed when submerged, he said. But the second they inhale a kernel of grain into their nose they involuntarily open their mouth, which then fills up with grain, making death inevitable, Field described.
Kurth, a graduate of Iowa State University, became Harrison County District conservationist in 1986 and was elected to the county’s board of supervisors in 2014, according to local media reports. He met his wife, Peggy, in college.
When he retired as district conservationist in 2010, he told the Nonpareil that his favorite part of the job was working with farmers.
“There’s lots of good, conservation-minded farmers in the county,” he said then. “I’ve enjoyed helping them protect and improve their land.”
The accident is currently under investigation.