MIDLAND, TEX., OCT. 16 -- To the cheers and whistles of weary rescue workers, 18-month-old Jessica McClure was pulled alive and conscious tonight from a narrow, abandoned well where she had been wedged 22 feet underground for 2 1/2 days.
Jessica was rushed to Midland Memorial Hospital. Dr. Carolyn Rhode said the child has no broken bones but is dehydrated and might suffer circulation problems in her right leg and foot, which had been immobilized in the 8-inch shaft.
As she was pulled by crane and cable into the glare of television and rescue lights, the blond, blue-eyed toddler, caked with dirt and strapped with gauze to a backboard, rubbed one eye.
The baby's parents, Chip McClure, 18, and Reba McClure, 17, waited for Jessica in the ambulance as volunteer workers hugged each other and cried with joy. "I feel great!" one woman said through her tears. The three major networks interrupted prime-time programming to broadcast the rescue, and Midland motorists leaned on their horns to celebrate.
Jessica fell into the well about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday as she played with other children at the private day-care center operated by her mother and aunt at the aunt's house. They were alerted by her screams.
Rescue workers dug a wider, deeper rescue shaft about five feet from the well, then began digging up toward the well at a 30-degree angle. They broke through this morning about 12 inches below the spot where Jessica was stuck in an upright position. And they spent the rest of the day painstakingly widening the hole.
At the recommendation of doctors, Jessica was not given food or water while she was trapped for fear that she might vomit and choke or might need surgery as soon as she was rescued. Physicians initially speculated that she might survive only 36 hours without food or water, but Jessica survived nearly 60 hours, losing four of her 20 pounds.
The rescue attempt was long and tense, as officials repeatedly estimated the time of Jessica's rescue, then pushed the estimates back.
Rescuers broke through to the shaft this morning. By 10:40 a.m., they could see the baby by holding a mirror into the shaft. Shortly afterward, a paramedic was able to poke his head and one arm into the shaft and touch her. He reported that he could see only one of her legs and that she giggled at the touch of his hand.
About 12:45 p.m., rescuers discovered that Jessica's right leg was in a "strange position," said Midland Police Chief Richard Czech.
Drillers resumed their efforts delicately, first with hand-held air drills and then with a high-powered water drill. Their goal was to widen the hole enough to allow paramedics to push their shoulders into the well shaft, twist the baby loose and pull her free.
As the long, hot day wore into a chilly night, rescuers looked tired and grim, working quietly and quickly. Jessica kept them going.
"She's a tough kid," Midland Police Sgt. Andy Glasscock said this afternoon. "She's held out . . . . She's kept our spirits up, and we're not going to rest until we get her out of there."
Glasscock, one of three people who kept in constant contact with the baby via a microphone lowered into the shaft, said Jessica talked, sang, asked for her mother and "got mad at us."
The rescue scene -- a small, fenced backyard usually filled with playing children -- held a green, 30-foot-high highway drill and hundreds of police, rescue workers and medical personnel. All attention was focused on two invisible spots below the ground -- Jessica's 8-inch prison and the 3-foot-wide rescue shaft into which workers were lowered by cable.
They emerged covered with white, chalky dust.
Their enemy was a hard layer of rock called caliche -- a cement-like substance of limestone, sandstone, chert and flint. Air drills splintered it at a rate of only one inch per hour, and it broke scores of drill bits.
By midafternoon the rescuers, headed by Dave Lilly of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, realized that they would have to begin attacking the rock with a high-speed water drill that worked more quickly.
The drama had a false ending shortly after noon, when two paramedics were lowered into the rescue shaft carrying the small board on which they planned to immobilize Jessica for the trip up the shaft.
Reba McClure, chatting cheerfully, was brought to the edge of a police barricade about 15 feet from the hole, and photographers stood at attention as the main cable rose inch by inch out of the rescue shaft.
A paramedic emerged alone. He began gesturing to Lilly, trying to explain how Jessica was stuck. Rescue workers realized then that it would be many more hours before she was freed.
Many of the volunteer drillers were small, compact men apparently chosen because they could work well in the narrow rescue shaft. "I can reach up; I can touch her butt. She's right there," Jamie Wade, 5-foot-3 and 125 pounds, said this afternoon as progress seemed to slow. "It's frustrating."
Like most of the rescue workers on the scene here, he vowed to continue to help until Jessica was pulled out. Also, like many here, he said he had begun to think of Jessica as one of his own children.
Outside the immediate rescue area, neighbors and Midland residents joined the vigil. Many of them had left their jobs for the day. Jesse Castilla said that he, his wife and two children prayed at home Thursday night to the Virgin Mary, "asking her to please get her out alive."
"If I could trade places with her, I would," Castilla said.
Jessica had been taken by her mother to the home of her sister, Jamie Moore, who runs a small day-care center for about a half-dozen children. The abandoned well was at the back of the yard, its opening covered at times by either a box containing a rock or by a ceramic pot, according to police.
Today, residents of the neighborhood, a modest subdivision of single-story shingle houses, opened their homes and refrigerators to rescue workers and reporters.
In Italy, television viewers were reminded of a similar rescue attempt of a 6-year-old boy that ended tragically in 1981. British newspapers carried full reports, and there were television and radio bulletins. In Hong Kong, English- and Chinese-language television stations carried reports on the girl, and the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper, ran a story that covered a quarter of a page.
The end of the drama was signaled in earnest when Jessica's parents were summoned to the well just before 7 p.m. A short time later, a paramedic was lowered into a parallel rescue shaft, followed by a tube of lubricating jelly to make Jessica slippery and a small backboard to immobilize her for the trip up the shaft.
"They brought her out feet-first. They had put vaseline on her to get her through the hole," Police Sgt. Jeff Haile said. "She was very alert, very bright-eyed. They got her through with no scratches. She's fine.
"I didn't have any dry eyes," he said. "I'm relieved and am glad it's over."
Meanwhile, Dr. Rhode at Midland Memorial said, "It's a matter of rehydrating her and observing her and observing patches of skin that suffered from lack of blood circulation.
"I think considering the length of time she was in there and the position she was in, she's a very spunky girl . . . . Right now, she's exhausted."