Survival

I Was Buried Alive

Rachael’s day on the farm turned into a nightmare
  • When Rachael Howen, 42, offered to feed her friend’s horse before work, she never expected to be left fighting for her life.
  • Trapped under the weight of two 900kg haybales, the single mum of five was slowly suffocating – and her nose was sliced off.
  • Eight months on, Rachael is on the mend and grateful to be around to see her children grow up.

Here Rachael tells her story in her own words.

Pulling on my jeans and brown leather boots, I was ready for a busy day.

It was June 2023 and I’d offered to feed my friend’s horses before work, because she was away.

Growing up on a cattle and grain farm, I knew my way around a stable and loved spending time with the majestic creatures.

I’d passed that same admiration onto my kids, Lydia, 22, Elise, 19, Isabelle, 17, Ammon, 15, and Charlotte, 11.

Arriving at the stables around 7am, I drove a golf buggy over to the back barn where the hay bales were kept.

On my way, I waved hello to another friend, Nicole, tending to her horse across the paddock.

Parking the buggy next to the haystacks, I hoped to make quick work of fetching the hay.

The smaller square bales that were used to feed the horses were located right next to a stack of very heavy round ones.

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Me before the accident (Credit: Supplied)

The square bales were stacked 10 high, and arranged like steps.

After climbing up, grabbing two bales, then carrying them down to the buggy, I went back for a third.

That’s when an incredible force slammed into the back of my head, instantly knocking me to the ground.

As pain ran through my body, I felt like I’d been hit by a car.

Unable to move, I realised one of the giant round hay bales had fallen on top of me, pinning my face and arms to the wheel arch of the buggy.

My face was pressed so hard against the metal I couldn’t even open my eyes.

Desperate to free myself, I tried with all my might to push the weight off.

But it was no use.

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One of the horses on the farm (Credit: Supplied)

Suddenly, without warning, the almighty force of another huge hay bale landed on top of me.

With around 1800 kilos crushing my petite 58-kilo frame, the pain was excruciating, and it was so hard to breathe under the crushing weight.

Petrified I was being buried alive, I somehow managed to scream for help despite everything.

Thankfully, Nicole heard my cries and rushed to me.

‘Please get me out,’ I begged.

But despite her best efforts, Nicole couldn’t shift the huge bales that were slowly suffocating me.

After five minutes, my lungs were running out of air and there was no airflow pocket to allow me to breathe.

I’m going to die, I sobbed, thinking of leaving my children without a mum.

‘Please get me out.’

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The hay bales that fell on me (Credit: Supplied)

Mustering every ounce of strength I had left, I let out a ferocious roar and pushed my forearms against the buggy while Nicole ran for help.

Incredibly, the bales shifted just enough for me to fall out of the tight gap between them and the buggy.

Gasping for air as I lay flat on the ground, I felt hot sticky blood gushing down my face.

Wiping it away with my hand, I was horrified to feel my nose had been ripped from my face.

My top teeth had been knocked out too.

There was so much blood that I couldn’t see out of my right eye.

I don’t have much fight left in me, I feared.

Nicole returned with George, a stable hand.

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My girls never left my side (Credit: Supplied)

‘The ambulance is on its way,’ she assured me.

Laying my head in George’s lap, Nicole used towels to put pressure on the bleeding.

‘Keep breathing,’ George soothed in between saying prayers.

When paramedics arrived 11 minutes later, they raced me to hospital.

On the way, Nicole phoned my two eldest daughters, Lydia and Elise, to tell them what had happened.

Meeting me in Emergency, along with my mum Elaine, and sister Ruth, 37, they were so strong.

‘It’s going to be okay,’ my sweet girls soothed.

Transferred to a hospital with a trauma unit, I was found to have a severe concussion and my maxilla – the bones that form the upper part of the jaw, the roof of the mouth, and parts of the eye socket and nose – was torn out.

‘Keep breathing.’

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Me with my mum Elaine (Credit: Supplied)

I’d lost 12 teeth, my face had been sliced from my right eye to my chin and my right eyelid was split open.

Wheeling me into theatre, doctors worked for four hours to reattach my nose.

Unable to chew afterwards, I lived on green juices, fruit smoothies and bone broth.

After just five days, I was given the all-clear to recover at home, where the kids doted on me.

Incredibly, within a month I was back playing for my volleyball team four nights a week, and after six weeks I returned to work.

In August, doctors rebuilt my maxilla using a piece of bone from my fibula – a bone between the knee and ankle.

I also had skin grafted from my lower right leg to repair my top lip ahead of getting a denture.

Eight months on, I still struggle with seeing my scars in the mirror, but my kids constantly remind me how beautiful I am.

While I still have a number of surgeries to undergo, I’m so grateful that I’m around to see my children grow up.

My family is my world.

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Me recently with Ammon, Charlotte and Isabelle (Credit: Supplied)

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