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Man Who Fell Into Arizona Mine 'Fortunate' to Survive

This Oct. 17, 2018, photo provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office shows rescue team members lowering themselves into an abandoned mine shaft to rescue a man who had fallen into the shaft two days earlier, near Aguila, Ariz.

A man who fell to the bottom of an abandoned mine shaft in Arizona is lucky to be alive, the head of a volunteer rescue team said Thursday, one day after a team gingerly lifted the man 100 feet (30 meters) to safety in a metal gurney.

John Waddell, who owns the land in the town of Aguila where the shaft is located, was in good condition Thursday at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, said hospital spokeswoman Alexis Kramer-Ainza. She said Waddell was undergoing surgery for two broken legs.

“He is a very fortunate individual,'' said Operations Commander Roger Yensen of the Mountain Rescue Posse of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Fifteen members of the posse overseen by the office's Search and Rescue Team rushed with specialized equipment to the property northwest of Phoenix after getting the call Wednesday afternoon.

The sheriff's office was contacted by one of Waddell's friends, who had known he was going to attempt a descent into the shaft. When the friend hadn't heard from Waddell for a few days, he ventured by the shaft and heard his cries for help, Yensen said. He had been in the shaft alone for two days since Monday, when he was slowly lowering himself toward the bottom with the rope and lost control of his descent, falling at least half the way to the rocky ground.

Talked via radio

When the posse got to the scene around 4 p.m. Wednesday, a two-way radio was dropped to Waddell to allow him to talk more easily to his rescuers.

One rescuer rappelled into the shaft and assessed Waddell's injuries, determining that he had possible ankle and leg fractures as well as friction burns to his hands. He was alert but dehydrated and was given IV fluids.

Yensen said the team used a metal derrick that Waddell had constructed over the shaft to lower himself into shaft and explore below.

It took about three hours to lift Waddell to safety. He was then airlifted to the hospital in Phoenix, about 90 miles (144 kilometers) away.

Sheriff Paul Penzone said he had no doubt that the posse, working with his office's Search and Rescue Team, saved Waddell's life.

“Our men and women train year-round for this type of event,'' he said, "and we are all grateful for this positive outcome.''