Girl Rescued After 58 Hours Stuck in Well

from Times Wire Services

Jessica McClure, her face bloody and swathed in bandages, was rescued Friday from the abandoned well she fell into Wednesday, ending a 58-hour ordeal for the toddler who survived without food or water and cried, "Mama," as workers tunneled toward her.

Jessica was brought to the surface at 7:55 p.m., strapped to a backboard that was hoisted out of the shaft by cable, and accompanied by paramedic Steve Forbes.

As an anxious nation watched on television, a deafening shout of jubilation rose from the crowd of rescue workers, friends and relatives, and horns honked throughout the neighborhood.

No Broken Bones

"We knew we would get her out," said exuberant driller Ribble Boler. "I saw her face and it felt real good."

She was rushed to Midland General Hospital, where she was listed in serious condition. Dr. Carolyn Rhode said the 18-month-old girl had no broken bones, but could have circulation problems with her right leg, which was wedged alongside her body in the narrow crevice so that her foot was next to her head. "There is a danger that she could lose the foot," Rhode said.

The girl had a moist blister on the foot, Rhode said, which doctors were checking for gangrene.

As a precaution, doctors planned to keep Jessica in a hyperbaric chamber, a pressurized oxygen tank that will increase the amount of oxygen in her blood.

Because of the awkward position of her right leg, Jessica might also have strained her right hip, Rhode said. The child also suffered some scrapes, cuts and bruises, but nothing severe enough to require stitches.

"She will have a considerable amount of emotional trauma," Rhode said. "Right now, she's exhausted."

The child weighed 21 pounds six weeks ago, but had dropped to 17 1/2 pounds and was 10% to 15% dehydrated, Rhode said.

"It's a matter of rehydrating her and observing her and observing patches of skin that suffered from lack of blood circulation," she said. 'I think, considering the length of time she was in there and the position she was in, she's a very spunky girl."

Earlier, Police Sgt. Jeff Haile described the dramatic rescue: "They brought her out feet first. They had put Vaseline on her to get her through the hole. She was very alert, very bright-eyed. They got her through with no scratches. She's fine.

"I didn't have any dry eyes," he said. "I'm relieved and am glad it's over.

"I think she was scared, but not in much pain," said paramedic Robert O'Donnell, who accompanied Forbes into the rescue tunnel.

"I found out her nickname was Juicy, and she responded to me every time I used it," O'Donnell said. "Her hands were at the side of her head and her right foot was next to the right side of her head. Once we got loose, we took off."

Drillers placed a sign reading "Thank You, America" on their rig after the child's rescue, then gathered in a circle for cheers and tears.

"I don't usually cry, but who cares," said police Sgt. Andy Glasscock, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Added Bruce Peeler, who helped man the line that pulled Jessica to the surface: "When she reached up and wiped her little eye, it was all worth it."

Bob Hawk, a local contractor who was on the scene, said that the abandoned well was immediately covered and that the rescue hole would be filled in soon. He said the sign of a job well done is a satisfied customer, but "this is way, way above that. This is personal satisfaction."

Parents Summoned

Jessica's parents, Chip and Reba Gayle McClure, had been summoned to the well just before 7 p.m., a signal that an end was finally near to a drama that started at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

A short while later paramedics were lowered into a parallel shaft that rescue workers had dug two days before. Later still, a tube of lubricating jelly was sent down--apparently to help make Jessica slippery enough to squeeze out. So was the backboard.

Jessica had been wedged in a narrow crevice 22 feet below ground. Rescue workers had to first dig a parallel shaft about five feet away, then create a 20-inch-diameter tunnel across to the well through rock so hard that it dulled diamond-tipped drills.

Police Cpl. Jim White said mining expert Dave Lilly, who arrived Thursday to supervise the rescue operation, was able to put his head and arm through a hole chipped in the rock of the rescue shaft and touch Jessica.

He said the bell-shaped opening Jessica rested in contained leaves from bamboo plants in the yard, as well as the roots of trees. He said she was virtually upright, with the one leg wedged tight.

Just after noon, workers bored a hole into the well shaft that was large enough for a paramedic to reach in and check her condition, Midland Police Chief Richard Czech said. She appeared fine, but her right leg was stuck.

"He was able to talk to the little girl. She was able to respond to commands, lift her foot up, do a few little things. She's helpful," Czech said. But rescuers needed more room to free her.

High-pressure water drill equipment had to be flown in from Houston to widen the rescue tunnel, forcing yet another delay in a process that workers had first predicted would end early Thursday night.

During the life-saving efforts, the child cried and repeatedly said, "Mama," when her 17-year-old mother talked to her. The little girl's breathing was monitored by microphone as her anxious parents and well-wishers clung to hope.

Jessica, 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 to the well.

The workers kept themselves going with one thought in mind:

"Just getting through to her, that's all that's on your mind. You get tired--you think about her," said David Perry, a construction worker who did some of the drilling Thursday.

Lawana Keller, a friend of the McClures, said Jessica "isn't the cuddly type. She likes to move around, climb on furniture. She's not ornery, but trouble seems to follow her around."

The toddler fell into the narrow well while playing with other children at the private day-care center her mother and aunt operate at her aunt's house.

Estimates on the time for freeing the child were set back time and again as rescuers broke dozens of drill bits on the hard rock. Details on how Jessica fell into the narrow shaft remain unclear, except that she was believed to be playing a game with other children.

Doctors at first had said the child could last for 36 hours.

All Friday morning, Jessica cried for her mother, Haile said. She no longer sang the nursery rhymes she had quietly sung the day before. Doctors at the scene took the crying as a good sign, because it meant that the child was breathing.

Jessica was given no food or drink for fear that it might cause her to slip farther into the well, said Dr. Chip Klunick, an emergency physician at the scene. He also said he wanted the girl's stomach to be empty in case surgery was needed when she was freed.

"She could have any kind of injuries down there. We just don't know," he said.

Volunteers took turns in the rescue shaft drilling at the dense caliche, or hardpan. "It drains you a lot because you have to work on your knees," Perry said after his turn in the hole.

Jessica's young parents remained nearby but secluded with friends during the ordeal. Early on, her 18-year-old father had emerged to make a brief statement: "With the Lord's help and your prayers, we know that little girl is going to make it."

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