PHOENIX — John Waddell often visited his 100-acre mining claim in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert to poke around in one of the abandoned mines scattered among the cactus for a bit of gold to sell for a few bucks.
But his friend Terry Shrader said Friday the amateur prospector never ventured down into the vertical shafts alone, instead focusing on one of several horizontal ones to pick out a little bit of gold.
So when Shrader went to look for his missing friend Wednesday afternoon, he said he was surprised to find Waddell at the rocky bottom of 100-foot mine, with two broken legs and hollering for help.
Shrader said in a telephone interview that he often accompanies the 60-year-old Waddell on his trips to the claim on Bureau of Land Management property about 90 miles west of Phoenix. Waddell was unable to speak about his ordeal because he was still being treated in a hospital, his friend said.
They both live in a sprawling subdivision of homes with 5-acre lots near the town of Wickenburg, and have known each other about eight years. Waddell, a former heavy machine operator, was on disability with two knee replacements, his friend said.
“He’s had it to close to 20 years, and he’s been working it all them years,” Shrader said.
Shrader said a lot of people in the area have similar claims, and he had one himself a few years ago when he lived in South Dakota.
“That’s pretty much a common situation around here, having a mining claim,” said Shrader. “There’s a lot of good gold out there, but it’s slow-going the way he’s doing it, just picking away.”
Waddell takes the gold he gathers and melts it in a kiln, which removes impurities and leaves behind little gold globes or buttons, his friend said.
Schrader said he agreed to check on Waddell if he didn’t show up after visiting the claim Monday. But he was ailing Tuesday and visited a doctor Wednesday morning so wasn’t able to check on his friend until that afternoon.
“I heard him hollering down in the hole as soon as I got there,” he said. “I was just glad to see him alive.”
Because there was no area cellphone service, Shrader drove a few miles to call for help.
One rescuer rappelled into the shaft and determined Waddell had possible ankle and leg fractures and friction burns on his hands. He was alert, but dehydrated and was given IV fluids. It took about three hours to lift Waddell to safety.
Shrader said Waddell told him he fought off three rattlesnakes and went two days without food or water.
He was airlifted to Phoenix, where he underwent surgery for two broken legs Thursday afternoon. Alexis Kramer-Ainza, spokeswoman at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, said Waddell was in good condition on Friday.
“I don’t think he’ll be going down into one of those vertical shafts again,” Shrader said.