Q13 FOX Season of Giving

Logger who fell into sinkhole recounts long, cold ordeal and his rescue

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Bill Burke wasn’t sure he’d ever see the light of day again. He spent nearly 24 hours underground, after falling roughly 16 feet down a sinkhole Monday afternoon while working a logging job in a wooded area just outside Montesano.

“Next thing I know, one foot went down and then both my feet went down. And next thing I know, I’m up to my arms. And then all at once, all the sticks and everything that was holding me up broke, and down I went,” says Bill.

He clawed away at the soil for hours.

"It was dark down there like you wouldn't believe," Bill said.

“I was gathering as much loose soil as I could to get this mound. My first thought, I get high enough and I made a couple of steps in the wall with my knife so that maybe I could climb up,” says Bill.

An experienced logger, he always carries a whistle and he blew that whistle through the cold night.

Fortunately, Bill’s logging buddy, Jimmy Stennett, a former firefighter, had agreed to help him on the job the next morning.

“I’m waiting and his wife calls me at 6:17 and she says have you seen Bill? And I say no and she says, 'Well, he never called last night,'” says Jimmy.

Jimmy started searching the woods.

"I finally found the truck and I drove down there and I see his truck and I don’t see anybody in the cab and the machine is parked behind it. And I get out fearing the worst,” says Jimmy.

Jimmy says he drove back to an area with cell service, called Bill’s wife, then called 911. He then went back to search for Bill, who had cleverly tossed a clue above ground.

“Over to my left I see his hard hat under some ferns and I reach down and picked it up. And when I picked it up I see a hole (in the ground) about this big on the other side and I look down and see movement and I said, Bill? And he looked up and said, 'Jimmy!'”

Rescue crews arrived on the scene and  helped get Bill out of the sinkhole. Rescuers said he was cold, but not injured. And then Bill drove home.

“I had a sneaking hunch that if anybody was going figure this out, if Jimmy made it down there, he’d be the one. Jimmy’s a hero to me. He’s a super hero and I’m here.

"I guess you take coming home every night for granted,” says Bill.

Both Jimmy and Bill said they could hear dogs barking in the area and are convinced that’s what led Jimmy to Bill’s location.  The men say they have a bond that can never be broken.