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Monday, December 08, 2003

Going to the well once too often: Man survives 60-foot fall in his well
News staff writer

HEFLIN - Wayne Screws doesn't have a water bill. He could get city water, but he prefers the water that is available at no cost from the well near his house.

Available, that is, except when there's a problem with the electric pump in his cellar, or the white plastic suction pipes that go deep into the earth, or the valve on the end of the pipes.

Screws and his family had been without water a couple of days back in October when he decided to go down into the well to retrieve the pipes and valve, which had come loose and were lodged in the mud at the bottom.

That was a decision Screws almost didn't live to tell about. "I thought I was gone," he said last week. "I thought it was over for me."

Screws, a painter by trade who was disabled in an automobile accident several years ago, said he attempted the repairs himself because he couldn't afford a plumber.

When the rope being used to hoist him out of the well broke, Screws plummeted about 60 feet through several sections of concrete pipe and about 15 feet of ice-cold water to the muddy bottom of the well.

"It seemed like I went down there 100 miles an hour. It happened that quick," he said, snapping his fingers.

"That's why it's hard to explain really exactly what happened. But I felt like it was going to kill me. And it was scary, because I thought it was over for me."

Rope tied to car:

Screws began the project with about 100 feet of new nylon rope. He tied one end of the rope to the rear bumper of his pickup. The other end lay coiled at the feet of his brother, Billy, who was standing near the entrance to the well to monitor the operation. The rest of the rope hung loosely around and below him as he descended into the well.

Wayne Screws' 21-year-old daughter, Tammy, was in the pickup with the engine idling. Screws climbed down almost to the water level and caught the broken pipes in his left hand. He dislodged them and the valve from the mud, and held onto the rope with his right hand.

On his signal, relayed by Billy Screws, his daughter began to move the pickup forward, and Screws began the ascent. When Wayne Screws' head reached the top of the last concrete pipe, which opened into a somewhat larger chamber several feet below ground level, the rope snapped and he plummeted to the bottom of the well.

"Once I said, `Pull me up,' and she was pulling me up, I could see that rope going across them bricks, and that's when I said, `Uh-oh. That ain't going to work,' but she was pulling me up and I was hoping that it would work," Screws said. [...]
Remember folks, gravity is a stern taskmaster.
Screws' daughter dialed 911 on her cell phone. Several rescue crews came out, and within 45 minutes he was out and walking around.

"If I had to do it again - and I would do it again if I had to - I would have my rope going over something slick like an iron bar or going through a pulley," he said.
Yep, that'll do 'er.
Screws said he would advise others considering a dangerous project such as repairing a well valve to "think about what you're doing before you do it, because, once you make that mistake, it's too late then."

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