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The boy will live; how to dig out what happened?

University of Chicago

No family members wanted to talk who were at the scene where 6-year-old Nathan Woessner fell straight down into an unexplained hole that swallowed him whole in a sand dune. He was later rescued, and lived. To tell the story, the only hope was Rev. Don Reul, Nathan’s grandfather.

He would be my only chance at detail and understanding for the narrative that readers wanted to hear (How did it happen? How did he live?) and that I desperately wanted to tell.

Be ready to show your credentials.

That’s what I was told in the news conference announcement. Meet at a certain entrance to the University of Chicago Medical Center and someone would escort me to the room where we would meet.

Armed with 22 questions, knowing I’d probably only have a chance for one or two, I went in determined to leave with every detail I’d need.

Between Reul and Dr. Tracy Koogler, this was accomplished. But the nagging question: “How on earth could this have happened?” still lingered. We needed someone who knew sand, and knew it well.

After enlisting the help of a couple colleagues, a graphics reporter found a professor who knew his stuff. Still, even he said the likelihood of what happened – a sinkhole or air pocket forming in a sand dune – was basically non-existent.

Reul maintains that Nathan’s survival is a miracle. And after expert after expert told me there’s no way a sinkhole-like abyss could form in a sand dune -- I wouldn’t discount either hypothesis.

Nathan's family, and many readers are elated that the boy, although still in critical condition, is expected to recover.

And we’re ever curious to see what geologists will discover as they investigate the mystery on Mount Baldy.

-- Ellen Jean Hirst

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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