'I Thought I Was Going To Die:' Trapped Arizona Miner Shares His Story

By Bridget Dowd
Published: Monday, October 29, 2018 - 11:56am
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2018 - 3:17pm

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It’s been almost two weeks since rescue crews pulled an Arizona man from the bottom of a 100-foot gold mine shaft.

The miner, John Waddell, opened up about his experience during a press conference Sunday.


It’s been almost two weeks since rescue crews pulled an Arizona man from the bottom of a 100-foot mine shaft. The miner, John Waddell, opened up about his experience during a press conference Sunday.
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
It’s been almost two weeks since rescue crews pulled an Arizona man from the bottom of a 100-foot mine shaft. The miner, John Waddell, opened up about his experience during a press conference Sunday.

The 60-year-old Waddell has been exploring mines for more than 20 years, but this time something went wrong.

“I had the right rigging and everything should’ve been safe,” Waddell said. “I got out on the platform, went down to about the 50-foot level, and my rigging just broke. I don’t know what happened. So it was like a free fall for another 50 feet.”

The drop left him with severe burns on his hands from trying to grab the rope, as well as a broken leg.

“[The rope] was going so fast and the temperature just went right through the glove,” he said. “You can see on some of the pictures where the skin was just ripped.”

Once at the bottom, Waddell knew immediately something was wrong with his leg. He said as a former EMT medical experience kicked in.

“I used a stick, put it inside my boot, and pushed just as hard as I could and I set my leg,” Waddell said. “After that, was the ankle. So I tried to straighten the ankle out as best I could. I cinched it up and made like a makeshift splint.”

But at that point, Waddell’s troubles were just beginning. He would spend two nights in the mine shaft without food, water or his medications.

“I’m lying there and the ground is wet,” he said. “I started shaking due to the cold and the shock.”

Bad to Worse

Soon after setting his leg, he was met with another problem, this one potentially deadly.

“I just happened to lean back a little bit and try to gather myself with what had just happened,” he said. “I look up and there’s a rattlesnake coming down. Where I landed, I would’ve been face to face with this rattlesnake. Why it didn’t bite me or strike at me at first, I don’t know.”

Waddell used the same stick from his makeshift splint to beat the rattlesnake until it was dead.

“When you’re in close quarters with no way to get out, you’ve gotta come up with something quick,” he said.

There was hardly any light in the hole, and the flashlight Waddell brought with him didn’t last long. As he tried to calm down, Waddell said he felt something move under his arm — a second rattlesnake.

“I felt the vibration from his tail vibrating on my arm and I didn’t move,” Waddell said. “I waited until he got completely underneath my arm. I reached down, grabbed it and threw it just as hard as I could.”

He heard the snake hit the wall and continued to beat it with the stick to make sure it wasn’t coming back. He would encounter one more snake before getting out. The nights came and went and Waddell started to lose hope.

“I didn’t know anyone was coming for me,” Waddell said. “I thought I was going to die.”

Waddell screamed for help, but the mine is located in such a remote location, nobody would have heard him. After a while, he started to hallucinate and tried everything he could think of to get fluids in his body.

“Believe it or not, the blisters got pretty big,” he said. “I was popping the blisters and drinking the fluid to try to get something in my system because my mouth was so dry.”

Luckily, Waddell had told his friend, Terry Schrader, where he was going and Schrader noticed Waddell had been gone too long.

It’s been almost two weeks since rescue crews pulled an Arizona man from the bottom of a 100-foot mine shaft. The miner, John Waddell, opened up about his experience during a press conference Sunday.
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
John Waddell in his cast.

The Rescue

“I was trying to lay out a foothold where I could step and get myself out of the mine, even though my left leg was destroyed,” Waddell said. “I laid back and I heard somebody hollering for me.”

Waddell broke down crying when he heard help was near, knowing that he was going to be rescued. It took six hours for rescue crews to pull Waddell from the mine. One of Waddell’s doctors said he was lucky he didn’t bleed to death from where the fracture was in his thigh bone.

Waddell’s daughter, Jennifer Fouche, drove an hour and a half from her home in Prescott to the hospital.

“He was in an open trauma unit so I wasn’t even actually able to see him for quite some time,” Fouche said. “But when I did go back there and heard him talking about the rattlesnakes I knew he was going to be fine.”

Fouche added that her dad is no stranger to adventure and wild stories.

“I mean, I get phone calls that he has a pet skunk,” she said. “There’s just always random things with him that are coming up.”

As for the gold he went looking for, Waddell said he found some. When asked if he’s go back down to get it, he said “you never know.”

“This time with someone there and a little better equipment, I just might,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years and it gets in your blood.”

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