Monday, March 17, 2014

The Chowchilla Incident




It was 1976. In Chowchilla, California, a bus was rolling along the roadway with 26 kids on board. The bus was intercepted by masked men who overtook the driver and took off with them all on board. The hostage-takers then put the kids and the bus driver into a buried moving van. The driver and kids managed to stack up mattresses and work their way out of the heavy earth atop of the van and got to safety. The people who performed the kidnapping were caught.

The hostage experience was described as: 

"It was difficult for Ed and the children to tell, from the inside, the true nature of the cramped box that held them captive.  In actuality, they were sealed in a moving van that had been buried several feet below the ground's surface.  They had entered the moving van through an opening in a corner of the ceiling, which sagged ominously and was covered by some wire mesh. 

The furnishings were sparse: there were mattresses and box springs spread haphazardly throughout the van and limited food and water supplies placed near holes that were meant to act as primitive toilets.  Small air vents did little to lessen the claustrophobic feeling of suffocation that pressed in from every side.

Time passed differently for each of the hostages.  For some the minutes all ran together in a jumble and for others each minute stretched on for what seemed like forever. Some of the older girls tried to calm and care for the younger children, even suggesting sing-alongs in an effort to quell the mounting fear they all felt.

After about 12 hours, and with no idea of when or if they would be freed, the captives began to look for any possible way to escape. By piling mattresses on top of each other, Ed and some of the older boys were able to climb high enough to reach the place in the roof where they had entered the moving van hours earlier.  

The metal lid seemed heavy and immovable, but they discovered that they could move the lid by wedging a wooden beam into a small gap where the lid did not completely meet the ceiling.After struggling for what seemed like hours, they were able to move the lid enough that Ed could reach up and pull down something that was weighting the lid down, which turned out to be one of two enormous industrial batteries. 

Later, after the other battery had been brought down into the darkness of the van, Ed and the boys pulled down the rest of the dirt and debris that blocked them from the ground's surface.After what seemed like hours, an opening large enough for one of the smallest boys was cleared.  Not knowing what or who was at the top of the hole, the boy ascended nervously but then reported that nobody was in sight. 

After expanding the width of the opening, Ed made sure all of the children climbed up and out of the buried van and, after 16 hours underground, the hostages began walking towards a light in the distance, moving as quickly as their exhausted bodies could carry them."

A very good book, Kidnapped! At Chowchilla, is worth a read.




It may have been an extraordinarily over the top insane plot, but it was doomed to failure by the desperate dreamers who designed it.


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