Local company plays role in child’s rescue

PARKERSBURG – A local company played a major role in the successful rescue of an Illinois boy trapped under 11 feet of sand.

United Construction, based in Parkersburg, supplied an excavator and operator for the rescue of 6-year-old Nathan Woessner.

The boy was playing at the top of Mount Baldy at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on July 12 when he was swallowed by a sand dune. He disappeared under 11 feet of sand.

Rod Drain, safety manager for United Construction, said they were contacted by emergency personnel requesting an excavator and operator. United Construction has been working at a site about a mile from rescue efforts since January, putting in air pollution controls for Northern Indiana Public Service Co.

Nathan fell into the sand about 4:30 p.m. Drain said they were contacted about a half hour later. Drain, a member of Parkersburg Laborers Local 1085, made a call to Ryan Zimmer, an United employee and excavator operator who lives about 10 minutes from the site.

“He came straight here and took a 320 excavator,” Drain said.

United’s equipment was one of three excavators used in the rescue operation.

The excavator was driven up the beach, along the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana, to get to the site. Drain said by the time the excavator got into place and set up about an hour had passed since Nathan had been swallowed by the sand.

“I know we were working to rescue him, but it didn’t look good,” Drain said.

Nathan, cold and limp, but alive, was pulled from the sand after a three and half hour ordeal. He was rushed to a Michigan City, Ind., hospital and later airlifted to Chicago, where he is recovering.

Nathan, who is listed in critical condition, is expected to make a full recovery. Initial tests have not shown any brain damage and his lungs suffered injury due the inhalation of sand.

Dr. Tracy Koogler, medical director of the pediatric care unit at Comer Children’s Hospital, believes Nathan must have had an air pocket underneath the sand or he would not have survived.

Rachel Wolfson, a physician in pediatric care at Comer, told the Associated Press Nathan should make a full recovery.

“My suspicion is that this kid is the luckiest kid on the face of the earth, and is going to be just fine,” she said. Drain said officials are hoping to arrange a meeting with Nathan as he continues to improve.

Rescue officials credit the private contractors and their equipment as crucial to saving Nathan. The sand could not have been moved as quickly or effectively without them. Drain said it was the first time he ever participated in any type of rescue effort.

Drain credited Zimmer with the actual work.

“I stood by to get them any additional personnel or equipment, if they needed it,” he said.

United, along with the other companies who provided equipment, personnel and support, declined to bill anyone for the services.

“It was nothing about money,” Drain said. “Everybody was there to rescue that little boy.”