ST. LOUIS —
His golfing buddies didn't see him vanish into the earth but noticed he wasn't visible, figuring he had tripped and fallen out of sight down a hill. But one of them heard Mihal's moans and went to investigate.
"He just thought it was some crazy magic trick or something," Mihal said.
Getting panicky and knowing his shoulder "was busted," Mihal assessed his dilemma in pitch darkness as he rested on a mound of mud, wondering if the ground would give way more and send him deeper into the pit that was 10-feet wide at the opening, then broadened out into the shape of a bell below the surface.
"I was looking around, clinging to the mud pile, trying to see if there was a way out," he said. "At that point, I started yelling, "I need a ladder and a rope, and you guys need to get me out of here.'"
A ladder that was hustled to the scene was too short, and Mihal's damaged shoulder crimped his ability to climb.
"At some point, I said, 'I need to get out of here. Now,'" Mihal recalled.
One of his golf partners, a real-estate agent, made his way into the hole, converted his sweater into a splint for Mihal and tied a rope around his friend, who was pulled to safety.
"I felt fortunate I didn't break both legs, or worse," Mihal said.
While disturbing, such sink-holes aren't uncommon in southwestern Illinois, where old underground mines frequently cause the earth to settle. In Mihal's case, the sinkhole's culprit was subsurface limestone that dissolves from acidic rainwater, snowmelt and carbon dioxide, eventually causing the ground to collapse, said Sam Panno, a senior geochemist with the Illinois State Geological Survey.