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Senior Rescued From California Well

October 21, 2000

PERRIS, Calif. (AP) _ A 73-year-old woman fell 20 feet down an abandoned well and was trapped for 6 1/2 hours before firefighters lifted her to safety.

``I was just covered with dirt and all this stuff,″ Rachel Chandler told KCAL-TV Los Angeles from her hospital bed. ``The Lord was with me _ I cried. I just begged the Lord to hurry up and bring my daughter home.″

Chandler suffered a fractured wrist, a bump on her head and was being monitored for signs of spinal injury. She was expected to stay four or five days in the hospital, but doctors were pleased with her condition.

``We are extremely happy,″ said Dr. Daniel Ludi, who treated Chandler after her rescue. He said her faith and positive attitude helped her as she waited for help. Ludi said Chandler described looking up through the hole and knowing that someone was watching over her.

Chandler tumbled into the 40-inch-diameter brick-lined structure in her daughter’s back yard Thursday afternoon, said Capt. Andrew Bennett of the Riverside County Fire Department. A rotted wooden cover apparently gave way, and parts of a twin-sized bed frame she apparently was carrying tumbled down with her.

A passer-by discovered Chandler shortly before 6 p.m. and firefighters pulled her out about 8:30 p.m.

Chandler’s daughter, Sandy Moreno, told reporters her mother recently completed chemotherapy, but did not detail her illness.

``She has incredible strength that I’ve tried to take after. In all of this, I don’t think she ever complained to one of these people,″ Moreno said.

``Nobody knew the well was there. There was 6 inches of dirt covering it,″ Bennett said.

After figuring out how to rig cable to get her out, rescuers lowered firefighter Mark Defina into the well from a ladder truck.

``She’s a great gal,″ said Defina, 43, part of a team trained to rescue people from confined spaces.

The shaft was illuminated by flashlight and emergency lights, but falling dust and dirt still made it difficult to see, he said.

``You try to avoid the other thoughts that go through your mind, whether it’s going to cave in on you,″ the 23-year veteran said.

Chandler was crouched at the bottom of the shaft with the bed frame wedged between her legs.

``She was very lucky that it didn’t impale her,″ Defina said.

The cramped space left Defina with only a few inches of room to maneuver. His conversation with Chandler was all business.

``I asked, `Could you raise your arms for me?′ She said yes,″ Defina said.

Defina slipped the harness around the woman and firefighters hauled them up, with Chandler dangling below the firefighter.

``She looked really relieved,″ he said.

``She could talk to me. She didn’t have a lot of pain,″ he said. ``She’s probably one of the better patients I’ve had.″

``It’s another day on the job, to be real honest with you,″ Defina said. ``That’s what the taxpayers pay us to do and that’s what we train to do.″

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