Chesterton Tribune



Boy dug from sand expected to recover; NPS says hole likely natural

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A 6-year-old Sterling, Ill., boy who fell into a hole in a dune at Mt. Baldy on Friday and was buried for three hours in the sand is expected to make a full neurological recovery, the Associated Press was reporting at deadline today.

Nathan Woessner “may suffer some lasting lung problems from breathing in sand but is responsive and can move his limbs,” the AP quoted Dr. Tracy Koogler, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The boy has been in critical condition since his rescue and is sedated and on a ventilator but will likely be released from the hospital in 10 to 14 days, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service said this morning that the 11-foot hole into which Nathan fell appears to be naturally occurring.

The Mt. Baldy unit of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has been closed indefinitely as NPS investigates the incident.

NPS spokesman Bruce Rowe gave this account of the incident. Around 4:30 p.m. Nathan and another boy were playing in the sand near Nathan’s family when he fell into the hole, located on the north slope of Mt. Baldy. Initial efforts to retrieve Nathan caused sand to collapse into the hole, burying him, Rowe said.

NPS personnel, the Michigan City Police and Fire departments, LaPorte County EMS personnel, and heavy equipment operators from D&M Excavators, Woodruff & Son, and NIPSCO all responded to the scene and, after three hours, succeeded in rescuing Nathan from an air pocket beneath the surface.

The boy was transported to Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Michigan City, then airlifted to the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Today, Rowe said, NPS investigators are calling the hole naturally occurring and believe that it may have been formed as a result of the significant movement of the Mt. Baldy dune from north to south. Researchers at Indiana University Northwest have found that the annual sand accretion rate varies from three meters to as many as six meters, and Rowe said that rotting plant matter found in the hole in question suggests that the moving dune may have uncovered a cavity left by the remnants of an old decomposed tree.

Rowe added that first responders reported to NPS that the hole “clearly did not look like anyone had dug it.”

Such an occurrence “has to be incredibly rare,” Rowe noted. “Nothing like this has been seen before at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore” and a search of the relevant literature by NPS has yielded no similar incidents anywhere.

NPS accordingly decided this morning to keep the Mt. Baldy unit indefinitely closed while it continues its investigation, and Rowe said that anyone found at Mt. Baldy will be subject to criminal prosecution.

Among other things, NPS will deploy ground-penetrating radar or other devices to examine the sub-surface of the Mt. Baldy dune and will consult with the Park Service’s Geologic Resources Division.

IN addition, NPS will go more deeply into the records in an effort to determine whether anything like this has occurred here or somewhere else before.

And safety protocols for NPS personnel working at Mt. Baldy will be formulated, Rowe said.


Posted 7/15/2013