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73-year-old Rescued From Well

October 20, 2000

PERRIS, Calif. (AP) _ A 73-year-old woman fell 20 feet down an abandoned well and was trapped for seven hours before firefighters were able to lift her out.

``She’s a great gal,″ said firefighter Mark Defina, who was lowered into the well to slip a harness around the woman late Thursday.

Rachel Chandler was in fair condition at Riverside County Regional Medical Center. She remained calm throughout the ordeal, Defina said.

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 a twin-sized bed frame tumbled down with her when she fell.

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

She wasn’t spotted for 3 1/2 hours, and it took firefighters another 3 1/2 hours to complete the rescue.

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

Defina, 43, is 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.″

After the rescue, Chandler was cold, tired and thirsty, but not seriously hurt, Bennett said.

``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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