UPDATE: Boy rescued from hole identified, in critical condition

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After more than three hours of digging, rescue crews pulled a 6-year-old boy out of an 11-foot sand hole around 8:05 p.m. Friday. The boy was airlifted to a Chicago hospital, where he is showing vital signs.

Photo courtesy: Julie McClure, Michigan City News Dispatch

Michigan City, Ind. After more than three hours of digging, rescue crews pulled a 6-year-old boy out of an 11-foot sand hole around 8:05 p.m. Friday.

The boy has been identified as 6-year-old Nathan Woessner from Sterling, Illinois.

Woessner was transported to the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital for treatment. As of 4 p.m. central time Monday, hospital spokesperson, Lorna Wong reports that Woessner remains in critical condition. According to his doctor, he continues to follow commands.

Earlier this weekend Woessner was transported to Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Michigan City before being airlifted to Comer's Children's Hospital.

Wong released a statement Saturday which read: "His parents want to extend their deepest thanks to the Michigan City fire and police departments and all the authorities, private companies and individuals who contributed to the rescue effort. They also ask that people include this little boy in their prayers."

According to News Dispatch the boy's parents told Michigan City Police Chief Mark Swistek that their son's outlook is very good.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park Ranger Bruce Rowe said Woessner was visiting Mount Baldy with family when he fell into a hole halfway up the dune on its north side. It happened around 4:30 p.m.

Woessner's family tried to dig him out with their hands, but the child was completely covered in sand.

“If you ever as a kid on the beach, as you take some sand out it tends to slough back in and fill the hole. The other thing that took time we had to be very careful with the heavy equipment,” said Rowe.

Michigan City's police and fire departments were called to the scene and also attempted to dig Woessner out with their hands, but were unsuccessful.

"Calls were put out to private excavating companies, D & M Excavating, Woodruff & Sons and also the local power company NIPSCO brought out excavating equipment," Rowe said. "And, with the expertise of police and fire, they dug for almost three and a half hours."

NIPSCO superintendent of gas operations, Rich Elm said “there was lots and lots of guys hand digging, trying to expose him making sure nobody was going to hurt him or anything with any equipment.”

Elm grew emotional as he talked about the “roller coaster” of a night emergency responders had.

According to Elm, “One minute you're thinking we don't know what we're going to have, and you're thinking the worst. Then you're hoping for the best. And when the best happens, it's awesome. It's the best feeling."

The boy was pulled from the roughly 11-foot hole around 8:05 p.m. Rowe said they were unsure whether Woessner was alive or dead when the boy was carried on a backboard to an ambulance down a ways on the beach.

At this point, it's unclear what caused the accident. Park rangers say it doesn't appear the boy was digging at the time and they don't know how the hole formed.

"I've been a park ranger here at Indiana Dunes National Lake shore since 1991 and I've never heard of anything like this here or at other sand dune parks," Rowe said. "It's baffling."

Mount Baldy will be closed through the weekend as the investigation into what caused the horrific accident continues. The park will reopen once rangers and police determine it's safe for the public to be on the dunes.

Folks visiting the dunes were turned away by a “closed” sign leading up to Mount Baldy. Gary Miller and his wife try to make it down to the lake shore at least once a year. They said they read about the ‘miraculous’ recovery in the newspaper in Chicago Saturday morning and switched beaches.

As the investigation got underway on Saturday crews took measurements and photos of the hole before filling it in for safety reasons.

According to NIPSCO employees assisting in the rescue, the hole grew from a five-to-six foot excavation site to one about 25-feet wide. Some emergency responders described the entire experience as “surreal,” and they were happily surprised to find the boy alive after being buried alive for hours.

Rowe said he expects a decision on re-opening Mount Baldy to be made by Monday morning. He assures that the rest of the beaches are safe and remain open.

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