Three hunters tragically lost their lives in a heart-wrenching incident as they attempted to rescue a dog that had fallen into an underground cistern in Texas. The group had initially set out for a hog hunting excursion and was joined by a friend when the tragedy occurred in Bastrop County, near Austin.
After one of their dogs escaped the truck and disappeared into a cornfield, the unfortunate chain of events began. The dog fell into a hole leading to the underground tank, prompting the three victims—identified as Delvys Garcia, 37, from Florida; Denise Martinez, 26; and Noel Vigil-Benitez, 45—to embark on a courageous mission to save the dog and then each other.
Addressing the incident, Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook expressed his condolences, stating, “It’s a sad day whenever it ends like it did yesterday.”
“Can you imagine? You have loved ones and they come to Texas to hunt and then it ends like this, which was a sad tragedy that just happened,” he said.
In response to an emergency call, the sheriff’s office promptly arrived at the scene at approximately 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning, where they discovered three individuals trapped within a subterranean hole.
According to reports from the sheriff’s office, it is suspected that a member of the hunting party initially leaped into the cistern in an attempt to rescue the distressed dog.
Subsequently, the other two victims courageously entered the hole, presumably to aid the initial rescuer, while a fourth individual from the group rushed to the truck to seek assistance.
Tragically, the water level within the cistern lay considerably below the opening of the ground-level hole, rendering escape impossible for the trapped individuals.
Cisterns, typically utilized for supplying water to rural residences, are subterranean storage containers.
Upon the arrival of responders, an underground cistern was discovered, partially submerged in water and emitting potent fumes resembling those emanating from a septic tank, according to the sheriff’s office. Regrettably, no signs of life were evident at the scene.
Upon investigation, responders detected elevated levels of hydrogen, a toxic gas. Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook conveyed to reporters that it’s believed the presence of this gas influenced the water’s buoyancy, causing a swift descent to the bottom.
He explained, “It didn’t take long for them to sink once they were in the tank.”
The recovery operation encountered obstacles due to the hazardous gas and concerns over the tank’s structural stability. Initial efforts involved attempting to dig beside the structure, followed by a plan to breach the side near the victims’ location. However, the latter approach was abandoned due to the potential weakening of the walls, rendering entry unsafe.
Efforts were then redirected, involving the drainage of water from the cistern and the dispersal of noxious fumes. Additionally, a small drone was employed to assess the structural integrity of the cistern’s walls. Ultimately, a responder was lowered into the cistern to facilitate recovery.
By 7:30 p.m., authorities successfully retrieved the bodies of the three individuals and the dog. An official cause of death will be determined through an autopsy conducted by a local funeral home.
Sheriff Cook disclosed that the cistern was situated on private property.
The property owner, whose identity remains undisclosed, is thought to have passed away recently, Sheriff Cook revealed.
For privacy reasons, the name of the property owner has not been disclosed by the authorities.
Sheriff Cook explained that the friends valiantly entered the cistern in an effort to save one another.
The initial individual promptly leaped into the cistern, while the subsequent man and woman removed their shoes and portions of clothing before following suit, as reported by USA Today.
“That group was there to save each other,” he said. “That takes a lot of guts to jump in.”