Photo by Inyo County Sheriff's Department
“You can’t walk up and look into the hole without jeopardizing yourself.”
Released from University Medical Center in Las Vegas on March 27, Santee resident Randolf Blattler, 60, is lucky to be alive. Blattler spent more than nine hours at the bottom of an abandoned mine in the Mojave Desert before being rescued on March 21.
Out shooting firearms with his friends in the open range off State Highway 127, near the Dumont Dunes HOV Recreation Area, south of Tacopa, the small group at twilight decided it was time to hit the road. Blattler said he’d go to bathroom before leaving and walked away from the group. “He just vanished,” said Matt Graeff of the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, one of Blattler’s rescuers.
Searching around for about an hour, Blattler’s friends said they put two and two together, the disappearance and the mineshaft.
“His friend Christopher said he had seen two mine holes earlier in the day,” said Graeff. “But he wasn’t sure that Blattler had seen them.”
Graeff described the mine holes as about seven feet across. “You can’t walk up and look into the hole without jeopardizing yourself.” Blattler’s friends had leaned over the hole just enough to see his feet at the 50-foot bottom of the shaft. Graeff says there’s a dogleg in the mineshaft that probably saved Blattler’s life. That’s where he landed, instead of falling 70 to 100 feet to the bottom.
Then the group realized they could hear him breathing. “Its amazing how sound comes up [amplifies] through that shaft,” said Graeff. The group was up on a hill at the 1,400-foot level and had cell service. “They had two bars,” said Graeff.
The Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, headquartered five hours away in Independence on Highway 395, called in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Cave/Mine Rescue Team, along with rescue teams from Las Vegas and Pahrump, NV. “They assembled their crews and were on the scene within hours,” said Graeff.
“He was barely conscious when we finally brought him up at 6:30 (a.m.),” said Graeff.
Blattler was airlifted to the Las Vegas hospital where reportedly he was put into an induced coma because of a severe head injury. “Amazingly he has no broken bones,” said Graeff.
“There are a lot of mines our there,” said Graeff. Old mines attract explorer hobbyists. The mines are privately owned. Even though inactive and abandoned, the owners don’t have to seal them off. “We’ve now reached out to the owner to encourage him to do so, but we can’t make him,” said Graeff.
Attempts to reach family members of Blattler, reportedly a nurse practitioner at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, were unsuccessful.