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Little Jessica Freed After 2 1/2 -Day Ordeal In Well

October 17, 1987 GMT

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) _ Eighteen-month-old Jessica McClure was rescued Friday night from an abandoned well by workers who spent 2 1/2 days drilling through solid rock to reach her as the nation waited anxiously to learn her fate.

Barefoot, caked with dirt and strapped with gauze to an immobilizing backboard, Jessica was hoisted by cable out of the shaft just before 8 p.m. CDT to the cheers of her parents, neighbors and rescue workers.

She had been in the well nearly 58 1/2 hours.

″They brought her out feet-first. They had put Vaseline on her to get her through the hole,″ said Police Sgt. Jeff Haile. ″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.

The toddler, who had gone without food or drink since plunging into the narrow well Wednesday morning in her aunt’s backyard, appeared alert as she rubbed her eyes in the glare of floodlights.

ABC, NBC and CBS-TV all interrupted their prime-time shows to televise the final minutes of the rescue, and CNN carried long live reports throughout the ordeal.

Jessica was rushed to a waiting ambulance for a one-mile drive to Midland Memorial Hospital, where she was listed in serious but stable condition in the intensive care unit.

The child felt well enough to munch half an orange frozen pop before undergoing 90 minutes of treatment inside a hyperbaric - or pressurized oxygen - chamber, and then to finish it afterward, said her physician, Dr. Carolyn Rhode.

Ms. Rhode said the girl suffered no broken bones or cuts severe enough to require stitches, 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.

After the hyperbaric chamber treatment, which is used to ward off gangrene, the toes on Jessica’s right foot that had been blue turned to a healthier red, a sign Ms. Rhode said was encouraging.

The child weighed 21 pounds six weeks ago, but had dropped to 17 pounds and was 10 percent to 15 percent dehydrated, Ms. 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.″

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″She will have a considerable amount of emotional trauma,″ Ms. Rhode said. ″Right now, she’s exhausted.″

The stress prompted the child to pull some of her light brown hair from her head, strands of which were wrapped around her fingers when she was rescued, the doctor said. A pressure sore on her forehead may require cosmetic surgery, Ms. Rhode added.

A deafening shout of jubilation rose from the crowd of onlookers as Jessica first emerged, and horns honked throughout the neighborhood.

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

Bob Hawk, a local contractor who was on the scene, said the abandoned well was immediately covered and that the rescue hole was to 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.″

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 a parademic was lowered into a parallel shaft that rescue workers had dug two days before. Later still, a tube of lubricating jelly apparently to help make Jessica slippery enough to squeeze out of her jam was sent down, as well as 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 it dulled diamond-tipped drills.

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 somehow 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,″ said Czech. ″We still don’t have enough room to get her out.″

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 ″Mommy″ 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 8-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 tod 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 said the child could last for 36 hours, but the girl apparently was in good health 48 hours after falling in and had no serious injuries.

Her cries and breathing were monitored with a microphone throughout the ordeal.

All Friday morning, Jessica cried for her mother, Haile said. She no longer sang the nursery rhymes she had quietly sung to herself the day before.

Doctors at the scene took the crying as a good sign, because it meant the child was breathing.

Jessica was given no food or drink for fear 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,″ a dusty David 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.″

Shortly before Jessica was rescued, Ron Short, a 26-year-old former oilfield worker who was born without a collarbone and can squeeze his shoulders to only 17 inches across, offered to go down the shaft workers had dug to free Jessica. But officials apparently decided not to take him up on his offer.