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Originally published March 28, 2012 at 4:21 PM | Page modified March 29, 2012 at 1:21 PM

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Boeing employee crushed by 787 wheels can't explain accident

The Boeing employee who lost his legs after falling under the wheels of a 787 Dreamliner under tow at Paine Field remembers the pain of being trapped but says he doesn't know "how I got underneath there."

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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The Boeing employee whose legs were amputated after he was crushed by a 787 Dreamliner under tow along Paine Field in Everett last month said Wednesday he doesn't know how he fell under the jet's wheels.

But he dismissed speculation around the Boeing plant that he may have been distracted while on a cellphone.

"My phone was in my pocket," said Josh Divers, speaking at a news conference at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle before his release from the hospital after eight surgeries, including two skin grafts. He said the phone rang in his pocket — his girlfriend was calling — while he was being transported to the helicopter for airlift to Harborview.

Divers, 30, appeared in remarkably good spirits, smiling through most of the news conference, though he struggled to contain his emotions at times as his mom and dad talked about the experience.

"I've always had strength," he said, and added that he looks forward one day to driving and riding a motorcycle again.

Boeing, the Machinists union, the state Department of Labor and Industries and other agencies are still investigating how the accident happened.

Divers had worked at Boeing for a year and a half before the accident. On the evening it happened, he was walking alongside the tires of the main landing gear under the wing, holding a chock, a wedge that's placed under the tire to prevent slippage when the plane stops.

Divers' father, Del Divers, said that when he first spoke to his son after he got to Harborview, all his son could tell him was: "I was walking and I fell."

Josh Divers, who was trapped under the wheel for more than 30 minutes, said he was conscious the entire time and felt "incredible burning, just horrible pain" in his legs.

"I remember everything until getting in the helicopter, except basically getting hit and how I got underneath there," Divers said. "From having my feet start to be run over to getting extricated, that's all pretty fresh."

He said the plane, a Japan Airlines 787 that was being towed by a tug, dragged him about 12 feet before it was stopped.

At one point, the hood of his sweatshirt was under the wheel and started to pull his head toward the tire, he said. He turned his body parallel to the wheels to keep from being pulled in further before the jet was stopped.

When the accident happened, another mechanic was walking on the other side of the set of wheels and the rest of his crew was in a van in front of the tug pulling the jet.

As managers from nearby buildings converged on the scene, he heard them discuss with emergency medical personnel the options for getting the plane off him without doing further damage.

His hips and ribs were also trapped, and before he was freed, his femur — his thigh bone — snapped.

Boeing personnel used a forklift under the engine block to take the weight off the landing gear and then raised the wheels with a jack, freeing first his ribs, then his hips and finally rotating him and pulling him out by his feet.

Divers thanked the team of doctors who amputated his legs below the knee and gave him extensive skin grafts to enable him to use prosthetics later.

And he praised Boeing's support, saying company officials were in frequent contact "to make sure that what I need, I'll get." He said he wants to return to work there.

"I don't know how much I can, but I'll want to," Divers said. "I really like working for Boeing. It's been a lot of learning, a lot of fun people to work with."

Dr. Douglas Smith, University of Washington professor of orthopedics and sports medicine at Harborview, who performed the amputations, said Divers has shown "an amazing amount of resilience." It will take some months before the skin grafts are healed enough for him to get fitted for prosthetic legs, Smith said.

Divers will recuperate at his father's home in Arlington, returning to Harborview for rehabilitation when his skin grafts have healed sufficiently.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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