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Rescue Efforts Recall Memories of Fiscus Tragedy 38 Years Ago

October 16, 1987|JACK JONES

The attempt to rescue 18-month-old Jessica McClure in Midland, Tex., revived memories of the Kathy Fiscus tragedy 38 years ago.

The 3 1/2-year-old San Marino child fell 94 feet down an abandoned well in a field near her home on April 9, 1949. The dramatic--though futile--effort to save her held millions transfixed in front of their black-and-white television sets or beside their radios.

Mrs. David Fiscus refused to give up hope. She heard Kathy screaming far down inside the curving, 14-inch-wide pipe and had shouted down to her. The child answered. Then there was silence.

Within minutes, the first rescue crews arrived. Clamshell cranes and bulldozers were brought in to scrape at the earth. Crowds of spectators had to be held back by police. Midgets volunteered to go down the well to rescue the girl.

Hourly Reports Issued

The digging went on. A 50-foot-deep hole was gouged out beside the pipe. Workers put down a shaft, only to abandon it as the sides crumbled. They sank a second shaft on the opposite side and there were hourly reports on how close they were to Kathy's position: 50 feet . . . 38 feet . . . .

A suspended microphone picked up what supervisors thought was her breathing. The digging resumed with renewed fervor.

Kathy's father paced back and forth between the excavation and where his wife sat silently in their parked car.

For more than two days and nights, heroic volunteers worked under the glare of floodlights, each in turn being lowered down a 24-inch-wide tube to dig with a short-handled spade and send dirt back up by bucket. They finally cut into the corroded pipe with pneumatic saws.

Kathy Fiscus was dead.

A physician said it was apparent she had been dead almost from the beginning. He then read a message from the child's parents:

"There is nothing we can say to thank the people who helped by their many sacrifices."

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