On this day in 1987, in an event that had viewers around the world glued to their televisions, 18-month-old Jessica McClure is rescued after being trapped for 58 hours in an abandoned water well in Midland, Texas.
The drama unfolded on the morning of October 14, 1987, when McClure fell through the 8-inch-wide opening of an abandoned well while playing with other children in the backyard of her aunt’s home day-care center. After dropping about 22 feet into the well, the little girl became stuck. Over the next two-and-a-half days, crews of rescue workers, mining experts and local volunteers labored around the clock to drill a shaft parallel to the one in which McClure was trapped. They then tunneled horizontally through dense rock to connect the two shafts. A microphone was lowered into the well to keep tabs on the toddler, who could be heard crying, humming and singing throughout the ordeal.
On the night of October 16, a bandaged and dirt-covered but alert Baby Jessica, as she became widely known, was safely pulled out of the well by paramedics. By that time, scores of journalists had descended on Midland, a West Texas oil city, and the rescue was carried out on live television before a massive audience.
After her rescue, McClure was hospitalized for more than a month and lost a toe to gangrene. She and her family were flooded with gifts and cards from well-wishers, and received a visit from Vice President George H.W. Bush and a phone call from President Ronald Reagan. Once out of the hospital, McClure went on to lead a normal life, spent largely out of the public spotlight. She graduated from high school in 2004, married two years later and became a mother. In 2011, at age 25, she gained access to a trust fund—reportedly worth at least $800,000—that was established following her rescue and made up of donations from people around the world.
Life proved more challenging for others involved in the Baby Jessica saga. McClure’s parents divorced several years after her accident, rescue workers in Midland feuded over a potential Hollywood movie deal and in 1995, a paramedic who played a key role in helping to save McClure committed suicide, possibly as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.