As It Happens

As it Happened: The Archive Edition - The Survivors Episode

She's known as the little girl who fell down the well. For 3 days in 1987, the world watched and waited to see if Jessica McClure would be pulled from the well alive. "Baby Jessica," as she known, was only 18-months-old when she fell down an abandoned well in Midland, Texas.
Paramedic Steve Forbes holds Jessica McClure on October 16, 1987, after she's pulled from an abandoned well in Midland, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)
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She's known as the little girl who fell down the well. For 3 days in 1987, the world watched and waited to see if Jessica McClure would be pulled from the well alive. "Baby Jessica," as she known, was only 18-months-old when she fell down an abandoned well in Midland, Texas.

The well was in her aunt's backyard and was only 20 centimetres in diameter. Robert O'Donnell was the first responder who pulled Jessica out alive, 58 hours later. He went through the rescue effort with former As it Happens host Michael Enright, shortly after Jessica was saved in October, 1987.

"It was real cramped. I couldn't even put my arm up to my chest, so when I went in to try to touch her.... I was able to touch reach up and touch her hip area, but that was as far as I could reach," said O'Donnell.

Emergency crews had to dig a tunnel parallel to the well, and then dig across to reach Jessica. On O'Donnell's first rescue attempt, he found the tunnel too narrow and he couldn't free Jessica.

"That was one of the most trying times," says O'Donnell, " because we had waited so long to finally get our chance. There was a doubt brought up whether I should go back  in a second time, because any time I mentioned about having to leave her in there I would get teary-eyed and almost cry and my voice would crackle. But there was no way they was going to keep me, they was going to have to have to forcibly remove me to keep me from going back down again."

After the accident, Jessica McClure was kept out of the media spotlight. She's led a relatively quiet life and is now married with two children.

Robert O'Donnell struggled with what his family believes was PTSD. He took his life in 1995, shortly after watching the Oklahoma City bombing on television.

You can hear Robert O'Donnell's interview, as well as these stories on this episode of As it Happened:

Grumpy the goldfish gets CPR.

A stranded Newfoundland sealer waits 2 days to be rescued from a pan of ice.

A Florida spear fisherman and lawyer survives a night at sea by going through his court cases one-by-one.

Edmund Metatawabin recounts his experience at St. Anne's Indian Residential School.

A survivor of HMS Edinburgh, which went down in WWII with millions of dollars worth of gold onboard.

A Nova Scotia man keeps his Christmas tree alive for 20 years.