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‘God Drilled that Hole’

12/1/2015

collapse at the San José copper and gold mine

Lou Diamond Phillips (far left) as Don Lucho and Antonio Banderas (center) as Mario Sepúlveda star in Alcon Entertainment’s true-life drama The 33, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Douglas Kirkland)

On Aug. 5, 2010, a catastrophic collapse at the San José copper and gold mine in northern Chile trapped 33 miners 2,300 feet underground for more than two months. Greg Hall, a member of Anton J. Frank Council 8771 in Houston, ultimately led the operation, known as “Plan B,” that freed the men on Oct. 17.

Drilling under extreme scrutiny on a job made more complicated by the depth, the unstable ground and the degree of the borehole combined created a nearly insurmountable task that Hall says he and his team were able to accomplish only with God’s help.

Five years after the disaster’s successful outcome, the miners’ story has been brought to the big screen in a film titled The 33, staring Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips and Juliette Binoche. Based on the book Deep Down Dark by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar, the film was released Nov. 13.

Because Hall’s role in coordinating the rescue was largely behind the scenes, he was not represented as a character in the movie, though he was involved as a consultant. In October, Columbia spoke to Hall about the rescue and the movie based on the ordeal.

Columbia: How did you become involved in the operation to rescue the 33 trapped Chilean miners in 2010?

Greg Hall: I’ve had a company [in Chile] since 1992. We manufacture equipment and give technical services to the drillers. When the collapse happened, the government quickly found out that if the miners were alive, they would be somewhere between 400 and 800 meters down. The drill rigs they were bringing in to try to find the miners didn’t have enough equipment to reach those depths, so we were contacted to equip all those rigs to get there.

Columbia: Can you give us a better understanding of just how daunting this situation was?

Greg Hall: After we had found [the miners] on day 17 and we came home, I was hearing all the plans that were being developed to save them. The government was talking about several months — months and months and months. And, of course, the ground was shifting and the miners were in danger.

I had been able to see the personal messages they gave to their families, and that made me feel like we were family. I remember telling my wife, “You know what we would do if that were our son or brother down there — we would go down there and try to dig them out with our hands.”

So I decided to try to develop a plan using whatever equipment was available. All the calculations, all the simulations we made showed that it couldn’t be done. But again, what would you do if that was your brother? So finally we did that, and the government called it “Plan B.”

Columbia: It sounds like you and your team were really motivated by love and concern. Can you say more about that part of the story?

Greg Hall: Up until that time, we had only drilled for profit, never for people. So there was an awesome weight on us. Plus we had the family watching us every minute. They would be calling to us, “Don’t let our son die. Don’t let our brother die. Please save our daddy.”

So there was a lot of pressure besides the technical, and the job itself was more than we were capable of doing. At one point we were about 140 meters from the bottom of the hole and we got stuck. We could not get out, and there was nothing we could do. The miners were calling to us asking what was going on. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that we had failed.

At the time, I remembered thinking that we weren’t alone, that the Lord had been with us. So I actually said the words, “Lord, we’ve done everything we can. If you want them out, you’re going to have to send your angels down and dig the bit out.”

And then the bit started moving.

I’ve had many people who know the business come up to me and say that that hole was impossible to drill. One of my friends said, “God drilled that hole.” That’s when I said, “God did drill that hole, and I just had a good seat.”

Columbia: You obviously possess very specialized training. Did it occur to you at any point that you were prepared for this remarkable opportunity to save lives?

Man holds artifact from the tunnel collapse

Greg Hall, a member of Anton J. Frank Council 8771 in Houston and coordinator of the 2010 rescue of 33 miners trapped for 69 days in a Chilean mine, holds a piece of a drill bit that broke off during the rescue efforts. (Photo by Eric Kayne)

Greg Hall: I guess I just figured it was so strange for a person from Texas to have a company in Chile and then all of a sudden be involved in this. After it was over, one of the newscasters asked me, “Greg, how did this job change your faith?” And I said, “My faith changed the job.” We realized pretty quickly that it was going to be providence if this was going to happen. Things that are impossible for us are possible for God.

Columbia: Tell us about your membership in the Knights of Columbus. What inspired you to join and in what ways has being a Knight impacted your life?

Greg Hall: I joined about 10 years ago. I haven’t been as active as I’d like because I was in seminary. I became a permanent deacon and now I teach at the seminary. But I love the Knights. Whenever somebody’s in trouble or the church needs something or I need something as a deacon, we call the Knights and they’re always right there.

It’s one thing to sit in your house and pray for people, which is obviously really important. But you also have to get out there. Christ calls and sends. The Knights are sent, and I always know I can rely on my brothers. They’re people where the rubber meets the road.

I always recommend that all Catholic men join the Knights because it’s a way to really be in family and fraternity. God calls us to be in communion and to go help — that’s what the Knights do.

Columbia: What can you tell us about the film The 33? Why should people go see it?

Greg Hall: The film does a great job of showing the heroic people who were involved in this. And the heroes were the miners and their families. [The filmmakers] do a tremendous job showing that they had a lot of differences, but they pulled together.

And our team was the same way. We had people who spoke different languages, who had different life experiences, and we all pulled together. The film shows the heroism of the families as well as what we can do when we work together.

Columbia: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

Greg Hall: In Chile, one of the miners asked me, “Greg, why did people care about us? We’re just little Chilean miners.” I thought about that and realized that it’s really because we’re all created in the image and likeness of God. The whole world cared because we’re all brothers and sisters, we’re all family.

The other thing is that if people go to see the movie, it will help the miners. The miners didn’t receive any money from [their ordeal]. They were left completely high and dry.

That’s why I’m involved in the PR for the movie, because if it reaches a certain level, some of the money will go to the miners. So anyone who wants to help the miners in a real way can go see the movie. Plus it’s a great movie. So it’s a win-win.

Click HERE to read Columbia's original story about Greg Hall from our December 2010 issue.