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Man breaks legs but survives mine-shaft fall, rattlesnakes

PHOENIX — An Arizona man who fell to the bottom of an old abandoned gold mine shaft, broke both his legs, fought off a trio of rattlesnakes and went two days without food or water before a friend heard his cries for help is lucky to be alive, said the head of a rescue team.

“He is a very fortunate individual,” Operations Commander Roger Yensen of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Mountain Rescue Posse said Thursday of 62-year-old John Waddell.

Waddell owns the land where the shaft is located north of Phoenix and was using a rope to lower himself into it on Monday when he lost control and fell at least 50 feet (15 meters) to the rocky ground. He had a cellphone but no service.

One of his friends, Terry Schrader, had known Waddell was going to attempt a descent and the pair had agreed that he would go look for Waddell if he didn’t hear from him.

On Wednesday, Schrader ventured by the shaft outside the town of Aguila.

“As I pulled out my truck I could hear him hollering, ‘Help, help!’” Schrader told FOX10 Phoenix .

Schrader had to drive out of the area to get a good enough signal to call the authorities.

Fifteen members of the posse overseen by the office’s Search and Rescue Team rushed with specialized equipment to the property.

One rescuer rappelled into the shaft and assessed Waddell’s injuries, determining that he had possible ankle and leg fractures as well as friction burns to his hands. He was alert, but dehydrated and was given IV fluids.

Yesen said it took about three hours to lift Waddell the 100 feet (31 meters) to safety.

He was then airlifted to the hospital in Phoenix, about 90 miles (144 kilometers) away. Waddell was in good condition Thursday at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, said hospital spokeswoman Alexis Kramer-Ainza. She said Waddell was undergoing surgery for two broken legs.

Sheriff Paul Penzone said he had no doubt that the posse, working with his office’s Search and Rescue Team, saved Waddell’s life.

“Our men and women train year-round for this type of event,” he said, “and we are all grateful for this positive outcome.”

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