Six months after miracle rescue, Mount Baldy's fate still uncertain

2014-01-19T00:00:00Z 2014-01-19T22:35:12Z Six months after miracle rescue, Mount Baldy's fate still uncertainJoyce Russell, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222

It has been six months since little Nathan Woessner was rescued from beneath the sands of Mount Baldy, but the story isn't forgotten. Nor is it over.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday referred to the Mount Baldy drama as a story of Hoosiers working together to overcome adversity.

The governor told of everyone rushing to help when Nathan disappeared into the dune.

"His dad ran to the scene, marshaling help even while frantically digging for his son," Pence recounted in his State of the State address. "Michigan City police and fire raced to the dune and were joined by beachgoers using their bare hands and shovels to dig in the sand. Local businesses rushed machinery to clear away the sand. Even reporters covering the story were seen using their notepads to dig."

It took nearly three hours, but they found the boy.

"We are strong and good people, but we are never stronger than when we work together," Pence said.

The park site, a draw to locals and tourists alike, has been closed since then.

Scientists have yet to figure out why the dune collapsed on July 12, burying the then 6-year-old Sterling, Ill., boy under an estimated 11 feet of sand for more than three hours.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore spokesman Bruce Rowe said the park received all the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ground-sensing data just before the Christmas holiday.

Now it is up to a group of National Park Service, university and outsourced geologists, as well as resource management staff, to crunch the data and come up with a cause.

"There is no time frame," Rowe said about determining what happened that sunny day six months ago and the long-term repercussions of the incident.

"We want to make sure the science is solid. This is new to science. We haven't found anything in any literature about it," said Rowe.

There have been theories as to why the dune collapsed, including one having the void caused by a tree that had decayed after long being covered by sand, but no conclusive finding.

If and when the geologists and resource management people come up with an answer as to why the dune collapsed, then they'll have to make a decision as to what can be done to prevent the incident from happening again.

That will include a lengthy discussion on the legal liability of the National Park Service if the park reopens and an incident happens again, said Rowe.

About a month after the sand swallowed the boy, representatives of the EPA walked every inch of the dune using specialized equipment, looking for any additional voids or anomalies below the surface.

Using ground-penetrating radar, investigators hoped to create a three-dimensional model of the dune.

A second hole was found during the search, about 10 inches in diameter and about five feet deep.

The National Park Service isn't the only entity concerned about the incident.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman Marty Benson said the DNR, which owns and operates Indiana Dunes State Park, just to the west of Mount Baldy, is also concerned.

"The safety of our guests is of utmost concern," said Benson.

State park lifeguards scoured the state park beaches looking for holes following the incident, he said. Property staff have continued to survey the area.

Benson said nothing indicating any sort of void, hole or anomaly has been found at the state park.

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