Baby Jessica Rescued from the Well: 30 Years Later


Friday was a day that brought a bumper crop of trouble. The nation awoke to discover that a U.S.-flagged tanker, Sea Isle City, had been hit by a missile, almost certainly Iranian, in Kuwaiti waters. In Midland that morning, a police spokesman was unable to predict how long it would take to reach Jessica .

At noon Presidential Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater surprised reporters with the announcement of Nancy Reagan’s upcoming hospitalization, and once again the word cancer threw a pall over the White House. The lunchtime news from Midland provided little relief from the gloom: the rescue crew might not reach Jessica before dark. How much longer could the little girl hold out?

After a day in which the Dow Jones industrial average plummeted by a record 100-plus points, the stock market’s 4 p.m. closing bell was like a dirge. The report from Midland: still inches away.

The evening news featured pictures of harried men peering into a silent hole. Below the surface, rescuers used a high-pressure water drill to cut through the last barrier of rock. Then, at nearly 8 p.m. Central Time, all three networks switched to Midland. The image endures: a grimy paramedic emerging from the rescue shaft cradling a bundle in his arms — Jessica alive, swaddling bandages hiding all but her nose, her pitifully battered arms, her frightened eyes and wisps of blond hair.

The child’s right foot was badly injured, though on Saturday doctors were optimistic about not having to amputate, and she may require cosmetic surgery to repair damage to her forehead. Withal, it was a story with that rarest of endings: a happy one. Through Jessica , the nation had briefly been transported back to a time when anything seemed possible with enough prayer and hard, selfless, backbreaking work. In a messy and maddening world, savor the memory.

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