A 51-year-old construction worker from Manassas yesterday survived a 14-story plunge down an air duct in an office building under construction in Tysons Corner.

Edward Ruettgers, whose fall was broken at the fourth-floor level when he became wedged in a narrow section of the duct, was taken by helicopter to Fairfax Hospital where he was listed in serious condition with a possible broken back and neck, according to hospital spokesman Lon Walls.

"I don't think we've ever had someone fall that far and survive. It may be a Christmas miracle," said Walls. "It's amazing that he's alert and has been able to respond at all."

Workers on the 17-story-plus-penthouse addition to First American Bank said Ruettgers was talking 20 minutes after he was dislodged from the duct by county fire and rescue personnel.

Rescue workers arrived at the building at 1970 Chain Bridge Rd. near Tysons Corner Center just after 11 a.m., according to Pam Weiger, a Fire and Rescue Department spokeswoman.

She said workers cut through the air duct at the fourth-floor level to reach Ruettgers and lowered him to the ground by an elevator on the side of the concrete and glass structure.

"He was like in a ball {inside the duct}. He was rolled up," said construction worker Buddy Geraghty, who helped rescue workers tear down the dry wall that encased the air duct and Ruettgers.

Geraghty said construction workers located Ruettgers by peering down the duct, the building's main air shaft that vertically slices the building.

Jack Duley, safety director for Omni Construction Inc., the general contractor, said the sheet metal air duct, which is about 2-by-4 feet wide at the top, gradually becomes narrower as it runs down into the mechanical room.

Duley speculated that Ruettgers, who was working on the penthouse floor of the building, became wedged at the portion of the air duct that is about 18-by-18 inches wide.

He said some of the drywall crumbled as he fell, possibly acting as a buffer.

Duley said he did not know exactly how Ruettgers fell through the air duct.

Officials from Virginia's Occupational Safety and Health Administration were still investigating the accident yesterday evening, Duley said.

Duley said Ruettgers, who lives at 9303 Victoria St., is employed as a steam fitter by Warner Mechancial in Rockville. Calls to the company were not returned yesterday.

Meanwhile, employes were thankful that Ruettgers survived the fall, but acknowledged they were rattled.

"It's dangerous. It makes me nervous," John Lackey said of his trade, peering up the side of the building. "He just went straight down."