One minute, 6-year-old Nathan Woessner was scampering up a massive dune in northern Indiana with his dad and a friend. He was gone the next, without a warning or a sound.
More than three hours later, rescuers pulled Nathan out from under 11 feet of sand on Friday. He showed no signs of life: He was cold to the touch, had no pulse and wasn't breathing. His limp body was put into the back of a pickup, which started toward a waiting ambulance.
The plan was to take him to the hospital rather than the coroner's office, even if he was dead, in order to "give the family and rescue workers hope," La Porte County Chief Deputy Coroner Mark Huffman said Monday.
As the truck bounced over the dune, a medic noticed something astonishing: The boy took a breath. Then, the cut on his head started bleeding. The jolt apparently shocked Na-than's body back to life, Huffman said. Nathan was rushed to the hospital and was crying in the emergency room when Huffman arrived a few minutes later.
"Man, I tell you that was such a great feeling," Huffman said. "This is not something that I as the chief deputy coroner get to report that often. It's an absolute miracle this child survived."
Nathan, of Sterling, Ill., remains in critical condition at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital, but he is expected to recover, Dr. Tracy Koogler said Monday. Of greatest concern is his lungs, as the amount of sand he breathed in could lead to asthmalike symptoms, she said.
Don Reul, Nathan's grandfather, was getting ready for bed when the phone rang. On the other end was the "hysterical" voice of his daughter, Faith Woessner.
"She said, 'Dad, Dad, we can't find him, he's under the sand," said Reul, a minister from Galva, Ill.
But he understood little else, and by the time he hung up, he believed that his grandson had fallen on the beach and had been pulled into Lake Michigan.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, running for about 25 miles along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, is a popular vacation spot that has long attracted families, hikers and birdwatchers. The dune Nathan fell feet-first into is one of the tallest, the 123-foot-tall Mount Baldy.
Nathan's 8-year-old friend rushed to where his dad and Nathan's dad were, and told them Nathan had vanished. Reul said that by the time Nathan's father found the hole, he could hear his son, but not see him.
The two men frantically dug sand from the spot where Nathan had fallen, but stopped after it was about 4 feet deep, Reul said, realizing they may have driven Nathan "deeper and deeper."
Michigan City, Ind., firefighters soon arrived and excavating companies brought backhoes and other heavy equipment to try to catch up with the boy, who was still sinking into the sand. According to media reports, the first responders pushed a rod down into the sand in the hopes of finding the boy.