MIDLAND, Texas (KMID/KPEJ)- 36 years ago today, Jessica McClure, was rescued after falling into a well in her aunt’s yard. Baby Jessica, then 18-months-old, spent more than 58 hours in the eight inch well, about 22 feet below the ground, as the community, and the world, held its collective breath, waiting for crews to drill into the rocky land and pull her to safety.
McClure was playing in the yard when she tumbled down the uncapped well. After McClure’s family called 911 for help, firemen and police developed a plan to drill a parallel shaft to the well where she was lodged and drill another horizontal cross-tunnel to rescue her. Rescue crews enlisted the help of local oil drillers, experts at drilling through the land in the area, and hoped to have her free quickly. Then, rescuers discovered that the well was surrounded by rock, and the jackhammers in use were inadequate because they were designed for downward, rather than horizontal drilling.
Eventually, a mining engineer arrived to help coordinate the rescue effort and crews switched to a relatively new technology, waterjet cutting, to get through the rock. During drilling, rescue workers could hear McClure singing “Winnie the Pooh”.
Once the rescue shafts were complete, paramedic Robert O’Donnell was able to inch his way through the tunnel, where he found the toddler pinned inside with one leg above her forehead. Nearly 60 hours after she fell, O’Donnell handed McClure off to a fellow paramedic who carried her up to safety and into a waiting ambulance.
That Friday evening, Midlanders attending a football game said they could hear cheering throughout the Tall City as news of the rescue spread.
McClure was taken to an area hospital, where medical staff worked tirelessly to save her leg, which was damaged from lack of blood flow from being pinned above her head. Despite all the hours trapped in the well, and 15 subsequent surgeries, McClure said in previous reports that she has no memory of the event.
But the Basin certainly remembers. School children growing up in the late 80’s said they remember the story clearly and remember praying with their families for McClure’s rescue.
Today, McClure still lives in the area with her husband and her children but has shied away from media attention. The well in which she fell has long been capped to ensure such an incident never happens again.