Dog rescued from 30-foot hole at old nuclear reactor site

SURGOINSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Little Timmy got stuck in a well Tuesday, and it was going to take a lot more than Lassie had to offer to get him out.

A construction worker helping to install solar panels in a field beside the abandoned nuclear reactor at Hawkins County’s Phipps Bend Industrial Park heard a dog barking Tuesday morning as if it was in distress.

Matt Mountie of Charlotte found a hole in the security fence and located the dog stuck in a 30-foot hole in the floor of the reactor building.

The hole was about the diameter of a manhole, and the bottom of the hole was filled with water. Only the dog’s head could be seen above the water.

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Mountie called Hawkins County Central Dispatch, which then called the Hawkins County Humane Society.

The HCHS initially requested the assistance of two civilian rappelling experts to attempt to go down the hole and retrieve the dog.

Kingsport Lifesaving Crew Assistant Chief Curtis Winegar was the first rescue personnel to arrive on the scene, and he recognized immediately this was going to be a job for professionals.

By the time it was over, the Kingsport Lifesaving Crew, Hawkins County Rescue Squad, Hawkins County EMS, Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency were on the scene trying to figure out a way to get Timmy out.

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Meanwhile, HCHS Manager Sandy Behnke and Assistant Manager Julie Baker tried to encourage the dog and keep his energy level up.

Baker nicknamed the dog Timmy after the little boy from the old Lassie TV show who got stuck in a well.

Initially, Winegar intended on attempting a confined-space rescue by setting up a tripod and pulley system over the hole to lower someone down the approximately 30 feet to get Timmy.

As they were waiting for that equipment to arrive, however, Timmy seemed to be succumbing to exhaustion. His head was beginning to dip below the waterline in the hole.

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Baker knelt at the top of the hole trying to encourage Timmy to hang on.

But Timmy was fading fast, and Winegar knew he had to act.

“We had initially contemplated using a rope and a noose to lift the dog out — kind of hook the dog with the noose and pull him out of the hole — but we were afraid that we would cause injury to the dog,” Winegar said. “Over the last 30 minutes, the condition of the dog deteriorated quite a bit. We were all in agreement that we didn’t have time to rig a confined space rescue, so we went to the backup plan and noosed the dog out. He was uninjured.”

Shortly before 4 p.m., about an hour after the first rescuers began arriving, Timmy was pulled out of the hole without suffering further injury.

HCHS personnel whisked Timmy away to the Church Hill vet’s office for treatment.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Timmy was doing OK.

In the 1980s, the Tennessee Valley Authority began building a nuclear power plant at Phipps Bend beside the Holston River near Surgoinsville.

The nuclear plant project was scrapped and the property given to Hawkins County and Kingsport for development of an industrial park.

The TVA also left a dangerous concrete labyrinth behind with the half-finished reactor building that has been a temptation to curious explorers for the past three decades.

On Tuesday, authorities discovered that a hole had been cut in the security fencing on the east side of the reactor building facing the remains of what would have been the cooling tower.

There was fresh graffiti on the walls of a long corridor leading to a large room where Timmy was trapped. That room also had fresh graffiti and broken beer bottles.

That evidence had some rescuers wondering if Timmy fell into the hole on his own or was put in the hole.

Hawkins County EMA Director Gary Murrell said steps will be taken to better secure the extremely dangerous structure.

“I know one thing for sure,” Murrell said. “If we hadn’t gotten him out when we did, I don’t think he was going to last much longer. We’re just lucky someone heard him barking from the construction site because he was in a pretty bad predicament.”


Information from: Kingsport Times-News,