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Arizona man who fell into mine shaft describes two days of fighting to stay alive

John Waddell, 60, said he had to kill rattlesnakes, at one point started hallucinating, and thought he was going to die.

The Arizona man who fell into a 100-foot mine shaft earlier this month while searching for gold described how he had to use a makeshift splint to support his broken leg and killed three rattlesnakes with a stick while holding onto a sliver of hope that he would be rescued.

John Waddell was searching a remote desert area near Aguila, about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix, when he fell to the bottom of a shaft. Waddell spent two days in the mine before he was rescued on Oct. 17.

"I went down to about the 50-foot level, and my rigging just broke. I don't know what happened. It was like a free-fall for another 50 feet," John Waddell said Sunday during a news conference from Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, according to NBC affiliate News 4 Tucson.

John Waddell
John Waddell, 60, speaks at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix on Oct. 28, 2018, almost two weeks after he was rescued from an Arizona mine shaft.KVOA

Waddell, 60, said he tried to slow his fall by gripping the rope he had used to climb into the mine but because of how fast he was falling, it ripped the skin from his hands. When he crashed to the bottom of the mine, Waddell said his leg snapped.

"You only have a short amount of time before the swelling or the bleeding starts in the leg, so I laid back and I was looking for a way of setting my leg. And there was a stick, so I used a stick (to make a splint)," he said.

As Waddell tried to figure out what to do, he said he saw a rattlesnake slithering down the side of the mine and used a stick to beat it to death before it could bite him.

During the next two days, Waddell would come face-to-face with two more dangerous rattlesnakes. He said each time, he used a stick to kill them.

Waddell said he began to worry that he wouldn't make it out of the mine alive and at one point said he started hallucinating.

Image: Arizona mine shaft rescue
Maricopa County Search and Rescue personnel work at a mine shaft where a man fell in and was trapped for two days.KPNX

"Night came and went, I tried to keep it together. And on the third day ... at that point, I didn't know anyone was coming for me. I thought I was gonna die. A lot of things were going through my head. And if I stayed down there, I knew I was going to die. During the whole duration I'm yelling and screaming, trying to get attention," he said.

Determined to make it back to his family and friends, Waddell said he started trying to think of ways on his own to climb out of the shaft, even though he had a broken leg. As he was planning his escape, Waddell said he heard a familiar voice yelling his name.

It was his long-time friend Terry Shrader.

Shrader told reporters in an interview after his friend was found that he began searching for Waddell when his friend failed to come back home. He said they always told each other where they would be searching.

Waddell said he "broke down and started crying" when he heard Shrader's voice.

"I knew that I'm gonna get out of here. You get to the point you give up. You don't know what else to do. I was just so thankful," he said.

It took rescuers five hours to pull Waddell from the mine. Dr. Cliff Jones said he was extremely lucky to not have suffered more serious injuries.

Waddell said the experience was "quite a ride," but told reporters that he plans to go back to the mine with someone else because he did see gold down there.