Baby Jessica Rescue Remembered on 28th Anniversary

Baby Jessica Rescue Remembered on 28th Anniversary

MIDLAND, TX (KWES) - Today, October 14, marks the anniversary of a three day rescue that put Midland in the national spotlight.

The country watched as "Baby Jessica" was pulled from a well 28 years ago.

Bill Bentley was 28 years old and working for a local cable company in 1987. He got a phone call around 9 a.m. the morning of October 14th.

18-month-old Jessica McClure had fallen into a well in her aunt's back yard.

 "I was called in with my job, as a technician, at dimension cable, to raise the cable-TV lines so they could bring the rat hole rig in and dig the rescue shaft," says Bentley.

The well shaft was 8 inches wide and 22 feet deep.  

Bill explores caves as a hobby and figured that his experience could be of some help.  

"In caves, sometimes we have to dig, and I asked if they had anybody that had that kind of experience and they said they didn't," Bentley said. "So, I offered to help and they accepted."

A Midland police officer rushed Bill home to get his caving equipment.   

The plan was to sink a rescue shaft  27 to 30 feet down, past where Jessica was. They would then start digging laterally and upward, to come up underneath her. 

Bill was the first one to go down the shaft and start what would end up being an eight and a half hour task.  

"I was only in there about 3 hours total time," he recalls. "One time in and after that I never went back in. I spent the other two and a half days rigging people up with harnesses and caving lights."

To this day, Bill is asked about the things that went wrong with the rescue of Baby Jessica.  He looks at things from a different perspective.  

Bentley says, "It all came together. There were setbacks and deadline, after deadline, after deadline, that came and went, you know?  We'll have her out in an hour.  We'll have her out in two hours.'  Hours turned into days, several days. But we finally did it."

Jessica was stuck in that well for 58 hours, from Wednesday morning until around 8:30 Friday night. It was a night when people all across Midland, the state and the world were holding their breath in anticipation.  

Jessica was finally free.

"I was a few feet away when that happened," Bentley says. He remembers the feelings he had as the rescue came to an end. "Jubilation. Excitement. Relief. Just thankful."

Bill remembers sleeping for over 20 hours after the rescue and  how he ran on nothing but adrenaline for 64 hours during it. 

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  Bill says in this case, a village got Jessica out.  

Bill hardly ever thinks of that day in 1987, except in October or when someone brings it up,  but he has his memories to hold on to. "Getting to ride in a police car, getting to ride in the parade, getting to be on the Oprah Winfrey show."  

Some of his fellow rescuers fell victim to post-traumatic stress disorder after everything was said and done. Bill is now a believer that the condition is real. 

"Only when I go back and watch the video do I start getting the same emotions, the same feelings. You know, getting nervous and excited and so forth, even though I know the outcome."

Bill hopes there will be a reunion in 2017 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Baby Jessica's rescue.  While he's never met her in person, he says if the situation were to happen again, they would do it all over.

?"It makes me real proud to be a Midlander and a part of it, a part of something that had a good outcome."