Baby rescued from well going home from hospital
Tearful parents thank God, rescuers after ordeal
May 14, 1999
MULVANE, Kansas (CNN) -- A 17-month-old Kansas toddler rescued overnight after falling 16 feet down a narrow well -- where he was trapped for five hours -- had only bumps and bruises and probably will be released from a hospital on Friday, a doctor said.
The boy became lodged in the dirt well -- about 8 inches wide and 25 feet deep -- Thursday night outside his parents' home in Mulvane, Kansas. His father saw him fall in, but couldn't reach him in time, authorities said.
Holding up pictures of their son at a Friday morning news conference, the boy's parents choked back tears as they thanked the dozens of people involved in the frantic, but cautious rescue effort.
"I can't think of a word big enough ... to say thank you to everyone (who) ... made it possible for me to take my son home today, " said Jerry Kraus.
"We think you are heroes," added his wife, Karen. "We also want to thank God for letting us keep Jessy."
"He's doing great ... and he's smiling again today," his mother said.
Rescue workers and onlookers broke out in applause as Jessy, strapped to a backboard and wearing a neck brace, was brought to the surface shortly before midnight before being taken to the hospital.
To reach Jessy, rescuers under emergency flood lights tunneled alongside and then beneath him, reaching a depth of about 20 feet. They began about seven feet from the well opening and angled cautiously toward the boy's location.
"It was a complicated rescue," Sedgwick County firefighter Kenneth Cox told CNN. "He was wedged in about 16 feet. We had to go down underneath him and then pull him out from the bottom."
The distraught parents mostly stayed inside the house as rescue workers dug their hole. Occasionally, his mother or grandmother would come talk to him from the top of the well.
Karen Kraus was "calming him ... telling him that she loves him," said Sedgwick County Fire Marshal Greg Thompson.
As a crowd gathered, a fiber-optic video camera was used to monitor the rescue and check on Jessy's condition. "We were able to lower it down and get it just above him. We could see his head. He had one arm up (pinned) over his head," Thompson told CNN.
Oxygen tubes were lowered into the well and warm air was pumped in to keep the boy from getting too cold. Lumber shored up the well's sides to prevent rocks and dirt from falling on the child.
Wichita firefighter Tim Deneen feverishly clawed through the last few inches to reach the infant, meticulously pulling dirt away from the toddler's tiny, mud-encrusted feet and comforting the boy to let him know someone was there.
"I was just telling him ... 'Give me a minute and I'll have you out,'" Deneen told CNN. "I wanted him to hear my voice, just to know there's someone behind him, because I didn't know what he could comprehend."
"Actually, a lot of it was to comfort myself and keep myself calmed down," said Deneen, who has two children of his own.
Jessy would cry occasionally, including a scream when the firefighter accidentally snagged the boy's hair, but Deneen said he considered the crying a good sign.
"(It) let me know he was still doing all right and he was still breathing okay."
"Once I removed him, (there was) a lot of crying," said Deneen, who had worried earlier that Jessy might fall even deeper in the well. "I needed to move quickly, but carefully, because I didn't know if the little guy was going to drop any further down in the hole."
After getting a firm hold on the boy, Deneen handed Jessy, clad in a T-shirt and shorts, to waiting firefighters in the rescue shaft who lifted him to the surface.
Deneen, who brought up the boy's sandals, told reporters: "He's out. We did it."
The ordeal began at 6:55 p.m. Thursday when the boy slipped into the well his parents were digging behind their home in Mulvane, 20 miles south of Wichita. The well was probably being dug to water the yard, authorities said.
The successful rescue was more than just luck. It was the life-saving payoff from repeated practice, including a session just hours before the real thing.
"We practice our trench rescue, confined space rescue and angle rescue on a regular basis, a couple of times a month ... for four to eight hours a day ... (to be prepared) for incidents like this," Cox said.
The Kansas rescue recalled a similar situation in Midland, Texas, in 1987. That year, 18-month-old Jessica McClure fell into an abandoned well and became trapped 22 feet down in a hole 8 inches wide.
It took emergency crews 2 1/2 days to reach the little girl. They rescued her after digging a parallel shaft and then breaking through the wall of the well.
Asked if the baby Jessica incident was on the minds of Kansas rescuers, Thompson said, "Yes, it was."
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