Born in 1970, American drilling expert Jeff Hart became internationally famous in 2010 after helping rescue 33 Chilean miners. Hart, a well-regarded expert in deep drilling, worked for nearly a month straight to rescue the miners, who were trapped underground for nearly two months.
Life and Career
Born in 1970, Jeff Hart entered the professional world as an American hard-rock driller; a well-regarded expert in the subtle art of drilling deep shafts into the earth to create wells for oil and water. Hart lived outside of Denver, Colorado with his wife and their two sons. He never expected to become famous outside his specialized field, but in late 2010 he briefly became an international icon for his leading role in the rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground in a collapsed mine.
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."
Rescuing the Chilean Miners
For the next 33 days, Hart and his team toiled almost nonstop, often working 18 or 20-hour days in a desperate effort to drill a shaft deep and wide enough to enable the miners to be rescued before they perished underground. The project was technically challenging, requiring the hole to be drilled at an angle and a slight curve to reach the trapped miners. Further hampering progress was the rock itself; it was extremely hard. Water access was also limited, and the only available survey of the collapsed mine was more than 20 years old.
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. "There's no explanation for that emotion," Hart said. "It's over the top. You try to prepare for it, but you just can't. We provided an avenue for 33 miners who've been stuck under ground for 33 days, it's an overwhelming emotion."
Jeff Hart and his team witnessed the miners' emotional emergence from their underground tomb in the same way that millions of other people around the world did: watching on television. Hart left the scene of the extraction before the first rescued miners reached the surface. "I want to let this become the miners' and their families' story and let them have their time," he said.
As fast as he had burst into international fame, Hart retreated from the limelight. "We got the job done," Hart said simply. Later, asked to compare his experiences in Chile to his work in Afghanistan before an audience of his colleagues at the 2011 conference of the American Water Works Association, Hart called his work in Chile "probably the most important thing I'll ever do." But he was careful to add that "drilling water wells for army bases in Afghanistan, providing water for our troops, is an extremely huge, important job, too.".
Jeff Hart continues to work as a driller for Layne Christiansen Co.
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