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American drilling expert Jeff Hart became internationally famous in 2010 after helping rescue 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for nearly two months.
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On August 5, 2010, a devastating cave-in at the San José copper mine near Copiapó, Chile, trapped 33 miners in a cavern more than 2,000 feet underground. An astounding 17 days later, rescuers received definitive proof that the trapped men were still alive when a message reading "We are doing well in the shelter, the 33" appeared at the surface, taped to a drill bit that had been used to create an exploratory borehole. The rescue effort then kicked into overdrive.
Jeff Hart was in Afghanistan at the time, working as a contractor for Layne Christiansen Co., a Kansas-based company employed by the United States Army to drill water wells on bases there. In early September, Hart got an unexpected phone call. Geotec Boyles Bros., the joint Chilean-American company leading the rescue effort, wanted Hart to lead their team "because he's the best."
"Afghanistan is an important job," Hart said, "but so is this. We dropped everything we were doing and got on the first flight we could get on, and two days later we arrived in Chile."
Though Hart and his team lost several broken drill bits along the way, they continued to make steady progress in their race against time, boring an initial 5-inch-wide hole, and then banging it out to 28 inches in diameter; the minimum needed to allow a rescue pod to be lowered down to the trapped men below. On October 9, 2010, Hart's drill bit finally broke through, reaching the subterranean room in which the Chilean miners had been trapped for nearly two months. Miraculously, all 33 were still alive. Rescue workers began the dramatic process of bringing the miners back to the surface in the pod, one at a time.
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