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Baby Jessica’s Rescue from a Well Capped Off a Terrifying Week in U.S. History

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During particularly grim news weeks, TIME and other news outlets have searched for uplifting stories to put the week in context and offer readers hope.

One of those weeks was 30 years ago, when 18-month-old Jessica McClure, nicknamed “Baby Jessica,” fell into a well in Midland, Texas, on Oct. 14, 1987. She had gotten trapped in a dogleg in the shaft 22 feet below the surface. After emergency responders in the city known for oil drilling dropped a microphone into the well and heard her voice, drilling began to rescue another precious resource.

McClure was pulled out of the well 58 hours later on Oct. 16th — three decades ago this Monday — and the good news of her rescue couldn’t have come at a better time. TIME explained why in its Oct. 26, 1987, issue:

Friday was a day that brought a bumper crop of trouble. The nation awoke to discover that a U.S.-flagged tanker, Sea Isle City, had been hit by a missile, almost certainly Iranian, in Kuwaiti waters. In Midland that morning, a police spokesman was unable to predict how long it would take to reach Jessica.

At noon Presidential Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater surprised reporters with the announcement of Nancy Reagan’s upcoming hospitalization, and once again the word cancer threw a pall over the White House. The lunchtime news from Midland provided little relief from the gloom: the rescue crew might not reach Jessica before dark. How much longer could the little girl hold out?

After a day in which the Dow Jones industrial average plummeted by a record 100-plus points, the stock market’s 4 p.m. closing bell was like a dirge. The report from Midland: still inches away.

The evening news featured pictures of harried men peering into a silent hole. Below the surface, rescuers used a high-pressure water drill to cut through the last barrier of rock. Then, at nearly 8 p.m. Central Time, all three networks switched to Midland. The image endures: a grimy paramedic emerging from the rescue shaft cradling a bundle in his arms — Jessica alive, swaddling bandages hiding all but her nose, her pitifully battered arms, her frightened eyes and wisps of blond hair.

The child’s right foot was badly injured, though on Saturday doctors were optimistic about not having to amputate, and she may require cosmetic surgery to repair damage to her forehead. Withal, it was a story with that rarest of endings: a happy one. Through Jessica, the nation had briefly been transported back to a time when anything seemed possible with enough prayer and hard, selfless, backbreaking work. In a messy and maddening world, savor the memory.

Today, “Baby Jessica” is Jessica McClure Morales, an assistant to a special education teacher at an elementary school in Midland, Texas. People, which caught up with her earlier this year, reports that her injuries sustained from the fall are barely noticeable; she has a small scar on her forehead and her right foot is smaller than her left foot because it had to be reconstructed after it became gangrenous while it was “above her head during the entire episode.”

People also reports that, while the 2008 stock market crash wiped out most of the trust fund started from the $1.2 million in donations she received Good Samaritans, there was enough for her and her husband Danny to buy a house, where they’re raising two children of their own. And the lesson of her rescue, as she sees it, applies decades later. “If you look hard enough,” she said, “there are so many good people in this world.”

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com