Man falls through the floorboards and into a hidden well beneath a Connecticut house

It was more than 20 feet deep and filled with about 7 feet of water, according to the Guilford Fire Department, which rescued Chris Town, 67.

Chris Town was assembling a bed frame for a friend’s son in a 19th-century house in Guilford, Connecticut, on Sunday afternoon when the floor gave out beneath him.

“I could hear a crackling noise,” Town, 67, said. “And I looked, and I felt myself starting to fall. My feet were going right through the floor. I fell, and then I kept falling. I thought, ‘You know, there’s ground down here someplace.’”

Town, it turned out, had fallen into a fieldstone cistern well that was concealed beneath the floorboards. It was more than 20 feet deep and filled with about 7 feet of water, according to the Guilford Fire Department, which rescued Town.

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“He literally disappeared right in front of my eyes,” said Town’s wife, Angela Town. “He was gone.”

Chris Town emerged from the ordeal with only minor injuries, including soreness and bruises.

“But I feel good,” he said. “I could be dead.”

The Towns, who live in Guilford, were helping a family friend, Diane Martin, move into the house, which Martin had recently rented. Martin said that she had told them about a soft spot in the floor in one of the rooms on the ground level and that she had asked Town to place a bed frame over the spot so it would not pose a hazard to her 10-year-old son, who has autism.

Martin then left to go pick up her son and 12-year-old daughter. Town stood up as he was working on the bed frame, and the floor gave out, his wife said.

She called 911, frantically telling a dispatcher that her husband had fallen into a “black hole,” according to a recording released by the Fire Department.

When firefighters arrived, they lowered a life jacket to Town, who had used his feet to brace himself against the walls of the well to keep his head above water. Assistant Chief Michael Shove of the Guilford Fire Department said firefighters assembled a pulley system using a ceiling joist and a tree outside the room. A firefighter, Don Venuti, was lowered into the well and attached a harness to Town, and the two men were pulled to safety. The operation took about 45 minutes, Shove said.

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Capt. Chris Gode, who supervised the rescue for the Fire Department, said he had not encountered anything like it in more than a quarter-century as a firefighter.

“Certainly this situation is very unique and presented itself with a lot of obstacles to overcome,” he said. “First one I’ve done in my career, and I’ve been on the job for 26 years.”

Town was taken to Yale New Haven Hospital, shivering with hypothermia, he said. He said he discouraged the staff from taking X-rays because he did not think he had broken anything.

The house was built in 1843, according to property records, though John Helander, the town historian, said it dated to 1842. The listed owner, William G. Butterly, could not be reached.

Dennis Johnson, director of health for the town of Guilford, said it appeared that an addition was built over the well at some point.

“Sometimes homes had wells in their basements in order to protect them from freezing,” he said. “Then, with really historic homes, sometimes we occasionally find them in an addition on a house or in a basement or right next to the house. Occasionally you do find them, but it’s not real common.”

Helander said it was “more probable than not” that the well had been dug around the time the house was built.

“It appears probable that the addition incorporated an old well that was existing at the time of the house construction, and they incorporated it into the house,” Helander said. “That was probably the primary water supply until they drilled a new well.”

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Carol Lynn Peterson, who sold the house in 2015 after living there for 42 years, said she was stunned to learn this week that there was a well beneath her former home.

On Monday afternoon, Angela Town said she and her husband were still reeling from what happened to them a day earlier.

Chris Town — who has had temporary ischemic attacks, or ministrokes, in the past and has two stents in his coronary arteries — said things could have been much worse.

Angela Town praised the firefighters for rescuing her husband.

“They saved his life,” she said. “Watching them in action was nothing but surreal, how they just synchronize and work with each other, and just from start to finish. We’re overwhelmed with gratitude.”

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