Scout rescued after falling off ledge in N.M. cave
June 7, 2003
A teenage boy who slipped off a ledge deep inside one of New Mexico’s longest caves was recovering Friday after rescuers worked through the night to free him.
Reilly Walker, a Massachusetts boy who was visiting relatives, was pulled to freedom on a gurney through 1.5 miles of sharply twisting turns inside the cave near the town of Fort Stanton, N.M.
The boy, who had been in the cave since Thursday afternoon, suffered a severe laceration on his right leg but was recovering well, said his father.
“He’s going to be fine,” Steve Walker said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press as his son was being treated at Lincoln County Medical Center in Ruidoso. The boy was later released from the hospital.
Walker, who rode in the ambulance from the cave with his son, said the boy was groggy from pain medication.
“I told him I was there and he said, ‘Oh, good,”‘ the elder Walker said.
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The teen was with Boy Scout Troop 108 from Estancia when he slipped and fell into a hole inside Fort Stanton Cave on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in south-central New Mexico.
He fell about 15 feet inside the cave, the third-largest in New Mexico with about eight miles of passages, said BLM spokesman Hans Stuart.
The teen found himself in a tight spot and was moving around to get out when he “slipped into that hole,” his father said. “It was purely an accident.”
Another Scout stayed and helped calm Reilly while others went for help about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Stuart said.
A police officer was one of the adults with the group and climbed out to call for help.
“It took him a full hour to get out, and he was hurrying,” Stuart said.
Rescuers — about 40 working in shifts at one point — wound their way down the cave to reach the boy. It took all night to get him out because of the cave’s narrow, twisting passages.
“There are areas there that are moist, so it can be slippery,” Stuart said. “There are areas where you have ups and downs. You have two areas where you have to crawl and the ceiling is two to three feet high.”
Rescuers crawled through a 1,500-foot section of the cave, then an additional 500 yards through another section as they pulled ropes attached to the gurney, he said.
“They actually strung a telephone line in there to keep in touch with the rescue team,” Stuart said.
A Scout leader and Reilly’s older brother, Greg, 17, drove an hour and a half to alert the Walkers, who were staying in a new house without telephone service, Walker said.
They reached the family about 8 p.m. Thursday, and the father headed back with them.
Crews wanted to make sure Reilly was all right before beginning the crawl back to the entrance, Walker said. The logistics took a while, but rescuers started moving the boy about midnight, he said.
The orange gurney emerged from the cave entrance at 7:07 a.m.
The cave exploration was part of a larger Boy Scout camping trip, Walker said. Fort Stanton Cave is open by permit only, which the Scouts had obtained, Stuart said. Going into the cave requires hard hats and boots or heavy shoes, and the Scouts were properly equipped, Stuart said.
Steve Walker was thankful for the rescuers.
“So many people came up wanting to go into the cave and help out. It was wonderful,” he said. “I just want them to know how grateful I am for their efforts.”