Deep below Second Avenue, where workers have been blasting into Manhattan's bedrock to build the first new subway line in New York City in decades, mud and muck are a fact of life.

But when a construction worker lost his footing as he made his way through a tunnel near 95th street, the ground seemed to swallow him up, creating an extraordinary rescue challenge the likes of which the Fire Department has rarely faced.

The worker was stuck waist deep, nearly 100 feet underneath the city's streets, with ice-cold water mixing with mud and creating what rescuers said could have quickly turned into a slushy tomb.

"It was a hell hole," said Lt. Rafael Goyenechea, a paramedic who quickly reached the worker and stayed by his side for more than four hours. "I was definitely worried throughout about possible drowning."

Ultimately, the worker was rescued around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, after being trapped for over four hours, and is recovering from hypothermia and other minor injuries at NewYork Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital in Manhattan. His name was not officially released.

Three firefighters suffered injuries during the rescue operation, including one who was hurt after getting stuck in the same mud that held the worker hostage.

Battalion Chief Donald F. Hayde, who directed the rescue for the Fire Department, said he had never faced a more daunting rescue.

"It was the most difficult technical rescue I have seen," he said.

In the end, both medical workers and firefighters had to improvise a solution for a problem none of them had ever encountered — mud so thick and viscous that it simply could not be cleared away.

"We basically had to try every different technique we have been taught," Chief Hayde said.

Lieutenant Goyenechea, who had been to the Second Avenue site a year ago for a training exercise, said the same level of improvisation was needed to make sure the worker was medically sound — from setting up an IV in deplorable filth to finding a way to warm the submerged man.

When rescuers got to the scene, they first had to reach the worker.

He was trapped midway between the two nearest entrance points used by construction workers to enter the tunnel — a distance of about 150 feet through the muck.

His situation was complicated because he was pinned at an awkward angle beneath plywood that sank into the mud with him.

Above him, there were two heavy bars used to brace the walls of the tunnel.

"The first units who got there were concerned about him slipping down more, so they got him roped up," Chief Hayde said.

With the ropes slung over the pipes, initial attempts to simply pull him out of the muck failed.

"There was a tremendous amount of suction pulling him down," Chief Hayde said.

Lieutenant Goyenechea, who positioned himself beside the worker's head to closely monitor him, said he had never encountered mud comparable to what he found in the tunnel.

"As soon as I started walking down there, it felt like your boot was going to rip off your foot," he said.

Lieutenant Goyenechea and Firefighter Carl Scheetz, who worked to secure the ropes around the worker and stayed by his side, placed plywood beneath themselves to keep from getting sucked in.

But after about two hours, the muck secured a solid grip on Firefighter Scheetz.

It took his colleagues 30 minutes to free him, and when they pulled him out, Chief Hayde said, the suction was so strong "it pulled a bunch of ligaments."

Another firefighter broke his arm during the rescue operation and a third suffered minor injuries. All three are recovering at NewYork Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital.

"Virtually every firefighter who went down there got stuck in the mud and had to self-extricate," Chief Hayde said.

In the end, it was a combination of strategies that led to the freeing of the worker.

Firefighters directed a construction worker to use a backhoe-like truck to dig a trench very close to the worker, hoping some of the mud would drain off.

"We went about it very gingerly," Chief Hayde said.

They also used a device to try to rip apart the plywood that was pinning the man down. Because the wood was not visible, and they were wary of risking more injuries, it took 30 to 40 attempts to clear the wood away.

A Consolidated Edison truck, typically used to vacuum flooded areas, was rigged up so its hose could stretch deep into the tunnel and suck out what it could, with additional sections duct-taped together.

Rescue workers considered using a cofferdam - essentially, a plywood box that would be built around the man - but decided that in order to get it around him, they would have to detach him from the ropes, something that they feared could result in him sinking entirely into the mud.

So firefighters also dug by hand, trying to scoop out two handfuls of muck for each one that seeped back in.

All the while, Lieutenant Goyenechea tried to keep the worker talking. He asked about his family, his favorite sports team and how he had gotten stuck.

The man said he simply lost his footing, and once his leg was trapped, there was little he could do.

After four and a half hours, the man was finally freed.

"From our standpoint, it was a team effort," Chief Hayde said late Wednesday morning. "Everyone did everything they could."

Lieutenant Goyenechea agreed, adding that he was just starting to feel warm again.

"My feet were cold until 5 o'clock this morning," he said.

Deep below Second Avenue, where workers have been blasting into Manhattan's bedrock to build the first new subway line in New York City in decades, mud and muck are a fact of life.

But when a construction worker lost his footing as he made his way through a tunnel near 95th street, the ground seemed to swallow him up, creating an extraordinary rescue challenge the likes of which the Fire Department has rarely faced.

The worker was stuck waist deep, nearly 100 feet underneath the city's streets, with ice-cold water mixing with mud and creating what rescuers said could have quickly turned into a slushy tomb.

"It was a hell hole," said Lt. Rafael Goyenechea, a paramedic who quickly reached the worker and stayed by his side for more than four hours. "I was definitely worried throughout about possible drowning."

Ultimately, the worker was rescued around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, after being trapped for over four hours, and is recovering from hypothermia and other minor injuries at NewYork Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital in Manhattan. His name was not officially released.

Three firefighters suffered injuries during the rescue operation, including one who was hurt after getting stuck in the same mud that held the worker hostage.

Battalion Chief Donald F. Hayde, who directed the rescue for the Fire Department, said he had never faced a more daunting rescue.

"It was the most difficult technical rescue I have seen," he said.

In the end, both medical workers and firefighters had to improvise a solution for a problem none of them had ever encountered — mud so thick and viscous that it simply could not be cleared away.

"We basically had to try every different technique we have been taught," Chief Hayde said.

Lieutenant Goyenechea, who had been to the Second Avenue site a year ago for a training exercise, said the same level of improvisation was needed to make sure the worker was medically sound — from setting up an IV in deplorable filth to finding a way to warm the submerged man.

When rescuers got to the scene, they first had to reach the worker.

He was trapped midway between the two nearest entrance points used by construction workers to enter the tunnel — a distance of about 150 feet through the muck.

His situation was complicated because he was pinned at an awkward angle beneath plywood that sank into the mud with him.

Above him, there were two heavy bars used to brace the walls of the tunnel.

"The first units who got there were concerned about him slipping down more, so they got him roped up," Chief Hayde said.

With the ropes slung over the pipes, initial attempts to simply pull him out of the muck failed.

"There was a tremendous amount of suction pulling him down," Chief Hayde said.

Lieutenant Goyenechea, who positioned himself beside the worker's head to closely monitor him, said he had never encountered mud comparable to what he found in the tunnel.

"As soon as I started walking down there, it felt like your boot was going to rip off your foot," he said.

Lieutenant Goyenechea and Firefighter Carl Scheetz, who worked to secure the ropes around the worker and stayed by his side, placed plywood beneath themselves to keep from getting sucked in.

But after about two hours, the muck secured a solid grip on Firefighter Scheetz.

It took his colleagues 30 minutes to free him, and when they pulled him out, Chief Hayde said, the suction was so strong "it pulled a bunch of ligaments."

Another firefighter broke his arm during the rescue operation and a third suffered minor injuries. All three are recovering at NewYork Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital.

"Virtually every firefighter who went down there got stuck in the mud and had to self-extricate," Chief Hayde said.

In the end, it was a combination of strategies that led to the freeing of the worker.

Firefighters directed a construction worker to use a backhoe-like truck to dig a trench very close to the worker, hoping some of the mud would drain off.

"We went about it very gingerly," Chief Hayde said.

They also used a device to try to rip apart the plywood that was pinning the man down. Because the wood was not visible, and they were wary of risking more injuries, it took 30 to 40 attempts to clear the wood away.

A Consolidated Edison truck, typically used to vacuum flooded areas, was rigged up so its hose could stretch deep into the tunnel and suck out what it could, with additional sections duct-taped together.

Rescue workers considered using a cofferdam - essentially, a plywood box that would be built around the man - but decided that in order to get it around him, they would have to detach him from the ropes, something that they feared could result in him sinking entirely into the mud.

So firefighters also dug by hand, trying to scoop out two handfuls of muck for each one that seeped back in.

All the while, Lieutenant Goyenechea tried to keep the worker talking. He asked about his family, his favorite sports team and how he had gotten stuck.

The man said he simply lost his footing, and once his leg was trapped, there was little he could do.

After four and a half hours, the man was finally freed.

"From our standpoint, it was a team effort," Chief Hayde said late Wednesday morning. "Everyone did everything they could."

Lieutenant Goyenechea agreed, adding that he was just starting to feel warm again.

"My feet were cold until 5 o'clock this morning," he said.