OSHA is investigating after a 12-foot concrete retaining wall collapsed Wednesday morning in Hendersonville, killing one man and injuring four others.
The wall collapse happened near Hajoca Corporation, a plumbing supply, kitchen and bath showroom, as a crew of workers for an independent contractor were doing repair work at the base of the retaining wall.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 13, the Office of Henderson County Attorney Charles Burrell said the County Inspections Department did not receive an application for a permit for the project from the contracting company, which would have been required for this type of project design.
"As a general rule, both the new construction and the repair of retaining walls over 4 feet in height require an engineered design, and a permit granted by the County Inspections Department based on that design," the statement read. "The County did not receive an application or issue a permit for this project."
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is routinely involved in construction incident investigations.
"The wall was approximately 10-12 feet tall and about 100-150 feet long," said Hendersonville Fire Chief James Miller in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "The wall just basically fell over. There was just dirt on top of the wall; there didn't appear to be any tiebacks of any sort, so that's something else we look at for how the wall came down. There was one small pancake void -- where the individuals that we removed came out of that general vicinity. It appeared they were all working in one area when the wall came down."
TIMELINE OF EVENTS:
At 9:28 a.m. Hendersonville first responders received an alert of a wall collapse and possible entrapment beneath the rubble near Hajoca on Spartanburg Highway, Fire Chief Miller said.
When first responders arrived on scene, they evaluated through witnesses and security camera footage that five people in a construction crew working on a project at the base of the retaining wall were impacted.
"We were told they were working in a trench area just at the base of the wall," Miller said.
Four individuals were buried under the rubble and one experienced minor injuries at the scene.
"One of the five people on scene that was doing repair work to the wall and pouring concrete was out from the debris and identified that he had four additional coworkers that were with him," Miller said Wednesday afternoon.
The first person emergency workers retrieved was transported by ambulance to Pardee Hospital. He has subsequently been transferred to Mission Hospital's trauma unit.
"The second person we had was a critical trauma patient. We requested two helicopters; unfortunately, Mission's MAMA was unable to fly due to weather, so the next request was to Greenville Regional Hospital," Miller said. "We transported that individual over to Mission Hospital."
The third person was retrieved from the wall collapse debris 30-45 minutes later, according to Miller, and was transported by Spartanburg Regional Region 1 helicopter to Mission's trauma unit.
"The last individual was deceased underneath the debris," Miller said. "Then we spent numerous hours trying to remove the wall and lift the wall up to get him out. Unfortunately, he was dead, and it was more of a body retrieval as opposed to a rescue. He was deceased immediately, and we identified that very quickly during the event."
Miller said because the rescue personnel knew the person was deceased and there was no possible survival, they put all their efforts into removing the other people and getting them to hospitals as quickly as possible. The fire chief added that crews were able to use machinery from the city's water and sewer agency to clear out excess dirt in order to get to the wall and drill through it.
The construction crew was working in the space between the Hajoca parking lot and the base of the retaining wall, pouring concrete in that foundation space between the asphalt and the wall.
"Law enforcement will continue to do investigations. The Department of Labor came out, and OSHA is out here as well, assisting in that investigation to find out the root cause of why the wall collapsed and what the individuals were doing at that time," Miller said Wednesday afternoon.
The Unified Command was on site, meaning the Hendersonville Police Department, the Henderson County Sheriff's Office and Hendersonville Fire Department.
A request was also made to Henderson County Rescue Squad, and upon its arrival, the HCRS made a request to the county's emergency management for Buncombe County's Task Force.
Buncombe County Task Force assisted with providing additional search cameras to look for additional bodies as there was discussion as to the accurate number of victims there were.
"There was a little bit of a delay in sharing information because we wanted to make sure that we had search cameras inside looking into the void spaces to make sure there wasn't somebody that was unaccounted for or somebody present under the wall collapse that we were unaware of," Miller said.
Next of kin notifications are underway, officials said, and none of the victims have been identified. No additional details are available at this time.
US-176 was closed for several hours in both directions near Old Spartanburg Road, as crews responded to the incident.
This is a developing story. Check back at wlos.com for the latest updates.