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Rescuers Inches From Girl Caught in Abandoned Well : She Talks to Mother and Cries

October 15, 1987|Associated Press

MIDLAND, Tex. — A frightened toddler trapped 22 feet down an abandoned backyard well talked to her mother and cried today as exhausted rescuers drilled to within inches of her after pounding their way through solid rock with jackhammers, racing the clock to rescue the 1 1/2-year-old girl.

Jessica McClure had been trapped for more than a day after falling into the well about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday while playing with other children at a private day-care center run by her aunt and her mother.

"The only thing I heard her say is, 'Mommy.' The rest is just crying and moaning," said Midland Police Cpl. Jim White.

Gathered at the site were friends and neighbors who waited and prayed with Jessica's parents, Chip and Reba Gayle McClure.

The little girl, described by an uncle as "a fighter," slept during the night after heaters were installed to blow warm air into the eight-inch-wide entrance of the well.

Concern About Dehydration

Concerned about possible dehydration, doctors at the scene considered lowering a bottle to the girl.

"But then we thought, we don't want to fill her stomach if she has internal injuries or is going to require surgery when she comes out," said Dr. Chip Klunick, emergency room doctor at Midland Memorial Hospital. "She could have any kind of injuries down there. We just don't know."

Doctors had said the child could last as long as 36 hours, and workers were working frantically to rescue her in time.

Rescue workers drilled a 3-by-3-foot shaft 30 feet deep next to the well, then began working upward at a 30-degree angle toward the child. Progress was slowed by solid rock that kept breaking drill bits.

"The mining expert is saying (rescue could be) around 6 p.m. if everything goes well," said Midland Police Sgt. Jeff Haile. "There's a possibility it could go on into the night."

Meanwhile, Jessica remained alert. "She's crying, she's humming, she's singing," Haile said.

Microphone Lowered

A special microphone was dropped into the shaft to communicate with the girl, and a camera was lowered so the child's face was briefly visible.

The well, about eight inches in diameter at the top, widens farther down until it narrows to a six-inch opening below the spot where Jessica came to rest.

By late morning, workers had reached the casing pipe entering the well near Jessica and had switched to smaller, more precise equipment to burrow their way through. A mining expert flown in from Carlsbad, N.M., arrived at the scene with special equipment.

"The closer they get, the more vibrations, the louder the noise. The poor little thing is scared," said White. "The closer we get, the more uncomfortable she is going to be but it's the only way we can go."

Because of the narrowness of the well, workers were unable to go into the well themselves. They didn't think throwing a line to the girl would work.

"She wouldn't have the strength to hold on to anything," said White.

Police said the dry well had been covered by a large rock or a flower pot, which was apparently knocked away by the children.

"I guess it's one of those freak accidents that could probably happen to most anyone. It's something that just touches everybody's heart," said Carol Davis, the mother of six.

"I've known her since she was born--she's rambunctious," said Jessica's uncle, Tommy Johnson of Midland. "She's a fighter."

The incident recalled the saga of Kathy Fiscus, a 3-year-old who tumbled 120 feet into an abandoned well in the San Marino section of Los Angeles in 1949. For 54 hours, more than 140 people dug frantically to reach Kathy in a drama that gripped the attention of much of the world. Despite the dramatic rescue effort, the little girl was found dead, apparently having drowned early in the episode.

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