The U.S. Border Patrol rescued an illegal immigrant Tuesday trapped in a 30-foot-deep well on the Tohono O’odham Nation.
The woman had climbed down to find water for her sister and her three nieces.
The five had been walking through the desert with four others for several days when the 29-year-old woman, her sister and her sister’s daughters, age 6, 10 and 16, stopped because they had run out of water and were too weak to continue in the 112-degree heat, said Border Patrol spokesman Sean King.
Everybody in the group was from Puebla, Mexico, he said.
The remaining four went to look for help, King said. They found Border Patrol agents around 10:45 a.m. and told them they had left five people behind. The Border Patrol’s Search Trauma and Rescue team (BORSTAR) coordinated a search with Customs and Border Protection air and marine units and Border Patrol canine units.
A Border Patrol agent found the sister and three girls around 2 p.m. near Cowlic, south of U.S. Route 20, and they led him to the well.
The woman was trapped on a narrow ledge, waist-deep in water, her face covered with more than 20 bee stings from a nearby beehive.
“She was hysterical,” said Ron Bellavia, who heads the BORSTAR unit and directed the search. “She had difficulty breathing because her face was so swollen with the bees’ stings. She was crying and said she was too tired to hold herself up and was worried that she was going to go under.”
The woman had slid down a pipe leading into the well to get water for the children, who were dehydrated.
“But she didn’t have a plan to get back out,” Bellavia said. “She was too weak to pull herself up.”
The Border Patrol agent threw down a 40-foot nylon strap agents normally use to tow things from their trucks so she would have something to hold on to, King said.
“It was the only thing he could find,” King said.
Within an hour, agents specially trained in vertical rope rescue arrived on the scene and sent down an agent who held on to the woman as both were pulled out of the well.
“We’ve never rescued somebody from a vertical position,” Bellavia said, “although we’ve trained for it for the last several years, and that training really paid off today.”
The woman was treated on the scene for dehydration and an allergic reaction to bee stings. Her sister and nieces, some of whom needed IVs, were also treated on the scene. All refused further medical attention and have been voluntarily returned to Nogales, Mexico, along with the other four from the group, Bellavia said.
Tucson Sector Border Patrol agents rescued 200 people from Oct. 1, 2006, to May 31, 2007, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.
Stay up-to-date on immigration issues with our border page.