The long ordeal started while the sun still danced across the sky, as two pre-teen boys wandered toward a nearby vacant house.
The boys, one 12 and one 11, had become friends as soon as they moved in two doors away from each other in the Greer area. They often played in fields or walked to a nearby store, but Tuesday they made their way to a vacant house at the intersection of State 101 and Fews Chapel Road.
They knocked on the door and peered through windows. No one had lived there for some time, authorities said later.
So they hopped up on a back covered porch, noticed a rectangular board on the floor and began to jump on it, said Lt. Tim Ridgeway of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, as he detailed the night’s events to reporters.
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While the 12 year-old watched in horror, the board gave way and his friend fell into an abyss about 140 feet deep, Ridgeway said. An old well that lay hidden underneath the porch had trapped the 11-year-old.
Horrified, his friend shouted into the dark hole. Amazingly, his friend yelled back.
The boy ran to a house across the intersection, and a neighbor called 911, then brought a rope to the well and lowered it down. It wasn’t nearly long enough.
Fire crews showed up soon.
Engines from the Lake Cunningham Fire Department blocked State 101, while patrol cars, an ambulance and a special-rescue truck pulled up. A helicopter touched down in the middle of the street.
Lights shone into the well and the boy, who remained conscious, told rescuers that his arm hurt badly, Ridgeway said.
As onlookers shivered and arctic air dipped temperatures toward freezing, the boy stood in water up to his shoulders, he said.
How had he survived such a fall?
“The board collapsed and he might have rode the board down as he fell so that might have cushioned it a little bit or just slowed him somewhat,” Ridgeway said.
The boy’s life also may have been saved by the water that he shivered in for nearly two hours.
He suffered a compound fracture to his upper right arm and suffered from hypothermia, Ridgeway said.
Ridgeway called it “remarkable” that the boy survived a fall of that distance.
Rescuers quickly set up an aluminum tripod rescue unit “that has a lot of wheels and pulleys and harnesses on it, which will hold a lot of weight,” Ridgeway said.
Red harnesses stretched from the unit, over the back porch rails and down into the hole. Slowly a firefighter was lowered feet first into the well.
The well started to narrow as the firefighter reached the end of his 75-foot line, Ridgeway said.
It wasn’t nearly long enough.
Crews added 25 feet of rope to the line and the firefighter went deeper. Still not enough.
They added another 45 feet of line, and finally after about 40 minutes he hovered over the boy.
“At that point, due to temperature and the strain and stress on the fireman as he had to wait and re-rope and so forth up above him, he got numb, it got a little narrower down there and he couldn’t maneuver his arms to bend over and get to the harness to get to the boy. But he could see him and talk to him,” Ridgeway said.
Up came the firefighter and down went a smaller fireman who reached the boy, latched the two together and gave the signal to pull them out.
Onlookers had gathered behind yellow caution tape near an old barn to the right of the house.
The boy’s mother spoke to rescuers and peered toward the house.
Surrounded by family, she waited to see her son emerge.
When he did, he yelled toward her.
“We’re over here, buddy,” a relative shouted.
The crews laid him on the porch wearing tan pants and no shirt, unhooked him and transferred him to a stretcher, Ridgeway said.
Crying, his mother ran to the porch.
Crews strapped him to the stretcher, wrapped him head-to-toe in white blankets and wheeled him to the waiting helicopter, which whirled into the night with mother and son onboard.