DENVER (CBS4) – The Colorado driller – hailed as a hero in the rescue of 33 Chilean miners – admits he’s never been comfortable being treated as a celebrity.
“It’s still hard to take in for sure,” Jeff Hart said.
Hart is one of five American rescuers who are proving to be big draws at this week’s113th National Western Mining Conference sponsored by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. But the star attraction has to be a life size replica of the rescue capsule on display at the conference.
Many visitors don’t realize the people who planned the rescue operation considered it a long shot.
“There was a lot of prayer there,” conceded Gregory Hall, Drillers Supply President.
Hall says many peers in the mining industry privately believed the rescue effort was doomed to failure.
“This could not be drilled,” is what Hall was told after it all worked out.
Hall and Hart, along with Brandon Fisher and Richard Soppe of Center Rock Incorporated, were interviewed by CBS4 at the mining conference. All four played key roles in the amazing rescue.
“When something went wrong, that’s all we thought about, (you know) please don’t let us kill these guys,” explained Soppe.
They knew failure wasn’t an option. Yet their success depended on doing the nearly impossible. Specialized drilling equipment had to be maneuvered very carefully down a narrow, crooked shaft.
“If you look at the geometry of that hole, mathematically the tooling should not have been able to bend through those corners,” Fisher said.
But the man at the controls of the drilling rig when the trapped miners were finally reached says he never lost confidence.
“We knew we would get there,” Hart said.
His picture was taken by several people attending the conference. One man interrupted a TV interview to shake Hart’s hand and say, “God bless you.”
Has this celebrity status changed his life? He prefers to think it hasn’t.
“Obviously I’m in the spotlight more, but as far as how we operate we still do our job to the fullest every day.”
Did he get a raise after the rescue?
“No,” he laughed and quickly added, “I didn’t ask for one.”
All of the Americans say they felt enormous pressure during the Chilean mine rescue effort, but they never talked about it. To do so, they explained, would not have helped get the job done.