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Child Stuck in Sand Pit for Five Hours

March 6, 1987

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A 12-year-old girl spent five harrowing hours trapped in wet sand up to her chest and braving 28-degree cold before firefighters could drain the sand and haul her out of the pit.

Staci Bonelli had been playing with three friends at Trap Rock Co., a local cement manufacturer, when she and another girl became trapped Thursday evening, police Officer Malinka Bragg said.

The second girl was freed easily, but Staci’s ″own motions and trying to get out forced her down deeper,″ said Richard Bailey, a Fire Department battalion chief.

The wet sand, coupled with the freezing temperatures, raised the danger of hypothermia, or low body heat, making time important in the rescue, he said.

Staci was treated for mild hypothermia at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and kept overnight for observation, spokeswoman Laura Feragan said today.

Firetrucks illuminated the scene with floodlights as rescuers worked to drain the sand beneath the girl. The pile was surrounded by two concrete walls and open on two ends.

Rescuers tied a rope under Staci’s arms and pulled it taut from an overhead conveyor as rescuers prepared to open a trap door about 2 feet below her feet. The door is normally used to transfer sand to a conveyor belt.

Once Staci was secured with ropes and wooden planks were positioned to prevent more sand from collapsing around her, the trap door was slowly opened to drain the sand.

As the sand flowed through the door, rescuers pulled on the ropes to lift her out.

″Once the sand started to drain, it took about five or 10 minutes,″ Deputy Fire Chief Phillip McLaughlin said.

The girl’s parents, Christopher Clayton and Donna Bonelli, were at the scene but declined to speak with reporters.

The other trapped girl, Jennitta Right, 12, was rescued soon after firefighters arrived at the scene shortly after 7 p.m.

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