Archdiocese Local World

He knew the drill

‘Plan B’ driller describes harrowing rescue to Bishop Ward students 


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

When water driller Jeff Hart heard that rescuers were estimating that it would take four months to reach 33 trapped Chilean miners, he remembers scoffing to his buddies in Afghanistan.

“I said that if they’re talking about four months, then those guys shouldn’t be in the drilling industry,” Hart told Bishop Ward High School students during the school’s Science Lecture Series presentation on Jan. 7.

Then he got the call.

Come to Chile.

Now.

“They called my bluff,” he said wryly. Hart and several other drillers would be working on what became known as “Plan B,” and there was no time to waste.

Within 47 hours of receiving the call, Hart and his fellow drillers (pulled from job sites all over the world) found themselves at the mine, located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

Buried alive

August 5, 2010, was a day like any other for a group of miners at the San José Mine in Chile. Suddenly, there was a rumble, a roar, a shaking, and dust.

Thirty-three men were trapped at the bottom of a mine, buried under almost a half mile of some of the hardest rock on earth. Rescuing them — if that was even possible — would take a miracle. Maybe several.

One miracle came in the form of a big, tough driller named Jeff Hart. Hart works for Layne-Christensen, an exploration and drilling company located in Mission Woods. But he lives in Arvada, Colo., where he is a member of St. Joseph Parish in nearby Golden.

Hart was drilling water wells at forward operating bases for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan when he, like most of the world, saw the news about the mine disaster on his laptop computer.

It was there that he noted with professional interest that the Chileans were drilling nine holes in an effort to find and rescue the miners. News reports said it would take four months to res- cue them.

The plan was to drill a big hole wide enough to accommodate a rescue capsule that would be lowered deep into the ground. A similar thing had been done in the United States, but under less difficult conditions.

The Chilean mine descended into the hard rock in a spiral, and the last survey of the mine was 20 years old — and thus not entirely reliable.

To top it off, the miners’ situation was desperate. They had little food. En- vironmental conditions in the hot, wet mine were unhealthy. The miners faced incredible psychological pressures from stress, fear and isolation. Time was not on their side.

United rivals

As Hart and his group began drilling with the “Plan B” rig, other drillers were working “Plan A” and “Plan C” rigs as well — different kinds of drills for different techniques. As the days went by, the drillers would visit each other’s rigs to offer advice and share informa- tion.

Several companies — Chilean, American and Canadian — were involved. The Chilean government even asked for NASA’s assistance to help the trapped miners cope mentally and physically in their isolated, extreme environment.

The whole Chilean nation was watching, too. Families of the trapped miners set up a camp near the mine — Camp Esperanza, or Camp Hope. The president of Chile visited Hart, and the nation’s mining minister Laurence Gol- borne.

“The minister of mines came out, and all he knew me as was ‘the Ameri- can guy,’” said Hart. “He asked the Chil- ean guys, ‘Why does he keep one foot on the drill?’ They told him it was so I could feel how the drill was doing.”

“I didn’t know he could speak Eng- lish,” Hart continued, until the minister asked him what he was doing.

“He said, ‘Can you really feel the drill that way? Do you mind if I put my foot up there?’

“After about 30 seconds, he gave me a look like I had completely lost it.”

The bureaucrat couldn’t feel anything.

But he came back day after day, and put his foot up on the drill, too.

“At the end of 30 days,he had a pretty good feel,” said Hart. “We got to know each other very well.”

Constant prayer

Throughout the ordeal, the Chilean miners and their families relied heavily on their faith. There was constant prayer, prayer in all activities.

Hart cannot speak Spanish but, often during those days, various people would communicate their appreciation to him by putting their hands on their own hearts, and then on his.

One day, Hart was startled to see the archbishop of Santiago blessing his rig. On another, they stopped for a woman who had brought a gift to the site.

“We ran our test and were ready to go back to work and [then] this lady came over and they said she was going to bless the well,” said Hart. “We all stood around and were blessed as well. And she pulled something out of a bag and dumped it in the hole.”

“We joked that, as drillers, we were trying to get stuff out, not fill it up,” Hart continued. “So I said that, and she came around and kissed us all on the cheek.”

Come to find out, the government of Chile had sent her to Jerusalem. She had just returned with the bag of dirt they’d asked her to bring back from there.

Hart’s response was prompt and unequivocal.

“You can fill it up.”

The Chileans were not the only ones on their knees. Hart, too, prayed, and believes that faith played a big part in the rescue.

“You look at the drilling industry in general, and we’re a pretty rough group of guys,” he said. “If you talk about spirituality and religion, it doesn’t usually come in with a bunch of roughnecks.”

“In this case,” he continued, “it did. Everything we did, pointed to a higher power than we had.”

to him by putting their hands on their own hearts, and then on his.

One day, Hart was startled to see the archbishop of Santiago blessing his rig. On another, they stopped for a woman who had brought a gift to the site.

“We ran our test and were ready to go back to work and [then] this lady came over and they said she was go- ing to bless the well,” said Hart. “We all stood around and were blessed as well. And she pulled something out of a bag and dumped it in the hole.”

“We joked that, as drillers, we were trying to get stuff out, not fill it up,” Hart continued. “So I said that, and she came around and kissed us all on the cheek.”

Come to find out, the government of Chile had sent her to Jerusalem. She had just returned with the bag of dirt they’d asked her to bring back from there.

Hart’s response was prompt and un- equivocal.

“You can fill it up.”

The Chileans were not the only ones on their knees. Hart, too, prayed, and believes that faith played a big part in the rescue.

“You look at the drilling industry in general, and we’re a pretty rough group of guys,” he said. “If you talk about spir- ituality and religion, it doesn’t usually come in with a bunch of roughnecks.”

“In this case,” he continued, “it did. Everything we did, pointed to a higher power than we had.”

Pay dirt

Earlier drill holes had located the miners in a refuge area at the bottom of the mine. One of the earlier holes drilled had reached that spot.

It was the task of Hart and his crew mates to widen that drill hole large enough to send down a rescue capsule.

“The only way we could do it with the tunnel the way it was, was to lay the tower back 11 degrees,” said Hart.

Hart and his colleagues had to figure the path the drill bit would take, as well

to him by putting their hands on their own hearts, and then on his.

One day, Hart was startled to see the archbishop of Santiago blessing his rig. On another, they stopped for a woman who had brought a gift to the site.

“We ran our test and were ready to go back to work and [then] this lady came over and they said she was go- ing to bless the well,” said Hart. “We all stood around and were blessed as well. And she pulled something out of a bag and dumped it in the hole.”

“We joked that, as drillers, we were trying to get stuff out, not fill it up,” Hart continued. “So I said that, and she came around and kissed us all on the cheek.”

Come to find out, the government of Chile had sent her to Jerusalem. She had just returned with the bag of dirt they’d asked her to bring back from there.

Hart’s response was prompt and un- equivocal.

“You can fill it up.”

The Chileans were not the only ones on their knees. Hart, too, prayed, and believes that faith played a big part in the rescue.

“You look at the drilling industry in general, and we’re a pretty rough group of guys,” he said. “If you talk about spir- ituality and religion, it doesn’t usually come in with a bunch of roughnecks.”

“In this case,” he continued, “it did. Everything we did, pointed to a higher power than we had.”

Pay dirt

Earlier drill holes had located the miners in a refuge area at the bottom of the mine. One of the earlier holes drilled had reached that spot.

It was the task of Hart and his crew mates to widen that drill hole large enough to send down a rescue capsule.

“The only way we could do it with the tunnel the way it was, was to lay the tower back 11 degrees,” said Hart.

Hart and his colleagues had to figure the path the drill bit would take, as well

Earlier drill holes had located the miners in a refuge area at the bottom of the mine. One of the earlier holes drilled had reached that spot.

It was the task of Hart and his crew mates to widen that drill hole large enough to send down a rescue capsule.

“The only way we could do it with the tunnel the way it was, was to lay the tower back 11 degrees,” said Hart.

Hart and his colleagues had to figure the path the drill bit would take, as well as the angle of the pipe.

As luck would have it, the first hole they followed turned out to have bored right through the mine wall, which exposed a portion of it to the trapped min- ers.

“Had we been two feet off, we would have never hit the mine, and we would have had to pull out and start again,” said Hart.

When the drillers had finally punched through a hole large enough for the rescue capsule, they were ready to pack it in for the day. They were bone-tired after working 16- to 18-hour days for a month straight.

But the minister of mines would have none of that and insisted that Hart ac- company him to a large tent in Camp Hope. There, Hart was met by the fami- lies of all the trapped miners.

“That was probably the most emo- tional time in my life,” remembers Hart, “except when my mother passed.

“We walked in the tent and he introduced me to all those people.”

The cheers were deafening.

What you believe

As it turned out, the miners spent 69 days underground, but Hart reached the 33 miners after 33 days of drilling. Hart himself wore number 33 on his football and basketball jerseys in high school.

The driller has since resumed what passes for normal in a driller’s life, but a bit of the fame from his role in the res- cue still lingers. At Bishop Ward, he en- couraged the students to continue their studies and follow their dreams.

“It doesn’t matter what you [choose],” was Hart’s advice to his lis- teners.

What matters is that it’s their vision they are working to realize.

“Follow through with what you believe,” he told them. “If you want to do it, you can make it happen.”

 

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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