COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The sea of shifting soybean kernels had risen to Jay Butterfield's knees inside a tall grain bin on his Ohio farm.
"I knew I was in trouble then," the 70-year-old said. "Because it's just like being in quicksand or cement."
Sometimes a job becomes so routine and familiar that carelessness creeps in. That's the way it happened on Butterfield's 116-acre farm north of Cincinnati.
Soybeans that came out of the field last November were damp, didn't dry well and weren't flowing smoothly out of an opening in the bottom of the 30-foot-tall, corrugated steel bin. Just before 4 p.m. on May 30, Butterfield scaled the ladder on the outside and climbed down into the shadowy bin with a length of plastic pipe to break up the damp clumps. He wore no harness or safety equipment. He had done the same thing without incident the previous day and on other days.
"You think it's not going to happen to you," said the second-generation farmer.
Butterfield climbed down and stood on top of the hard legumes, poking and breaking them up to better facilitate the flow. He was near the bottom of the bin when he got stuck. Then the crop that was piled up around the sides started to shift.
"The beans went out from under my feet and sucked them down that fast," he said. "Then they started rolling on top of me."
Butterfield had multiple problems. He was close enough to the bin's bottom to put his foot on the rotating auger, which helps sweep out the beans and threatened to suck him down into it. The machinery stripped the leather off one of his steel-toed boots and ripped the lace out.
He hollered to his brother-in-law Eddie Demaree for help. By the time the first rescue squad arrived, Butterfield was buried up to his chest with his arms in the air.
Within about 10 minutes, he was covered up to his chin.
Despite the warnings, a couple dozen people, give or take, die from being buried in grain every year in the U.S. Butterfield's friend Charlie Groh died in a corn bin in 2013 in a neighboring township. Butterfield readily acknowledges he should have known better.
Such accidents are so common that "grain entrapment" has a lengthy Wikipedia page. A study from Purdue University noted that 2010 was a particularly hazardous year for grain bin accidents, with 59 entrapments and 26 deaths. Last year, 30 grain entrapments were documented, with half the victims dying. Males under 18 are especially susceptible.
It happens so often, in fact, that fire departments in farming regions undergo special training and acquire equipment just for these situations. One such crew, comprised of members of the Reily Township volunteer fire department, was near Butterfield's farm.
"We got them on the road immediately," said Steve Miller, the Ross Township fire chief who headed the overall rescue effort.