Doing the impossible with a drill, a prayer
By Mary P. Walker
Imagine trying to do something that has never been done before, with 33 lives at stake, and a billion people watching all over the world. Deacon Greg Hall and other rescuers faced those challenges when the San José mine collapsed in Chile on Aug. 5, 2010, trapping 33 men. Faith, technology, business acumen, science, and what Deacon Hall characterizes as a miracle brought the miners up from the depths of the earth.
“God is active in the world, and I was a witness to it. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things,” Deacon Hall said.
Those who know Deacon Hall would not characterize him as “ordinary.” At the time of the rescue, he was preparing for the diaconate, and his technical expertise was respected internationally. A member of the class of 1982, he graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in engineering technology, which he put to work practicing the science and craft of drilling. This led him to found Drillers Supply International, and his companies have locations in Texas, Minnesota and Chile.
His solid reputation and experience in Chile, as well as Deacon Hall’s relationship with the Chilean government, were key in implementing an innovative plan for rescuing the miners.
After 17 days, the miners’ location was discovered through drilling narrow exploratory holes deep into the rock. Against all odds, the men were alive. While there was great excitement, there was also the sober recognition that even if it were possible to drill a hole wide and deep enough for rescue, it would take many months. This was much longer than anybody had ever survived underground.
Those working at the site were able to send supplies and video equipment to the miners. The trapped men, thinking that they were probably going to die, recorded emotional messages to their families. After listening to the tape, Deacon Hall felt that the miners were part of his own family, and he had to do all that he could to help them.
Leading the rescue effort, he prayed and went to work. The plan, known as “Plan B” to distinguish it from two other drilling rescue efforts, was a complex use of equipment and precision drilling through a circuitous route to widen one of the boreholes used to get supplies to the miners. If “Plan B” worked, it would allow rescue within a much shorter timeframe. Deacon Hall knew that not only were lives at stake, but also his business and reputation were on the line.
Math and science predicted failure. The logical “business” decision would have been not to attempt the impossible.
“Technically the job couldn’t be done. We just stopped doing the calculations,” Deacon Hall said.
Rather than being overwhelmed, the team focused on drilling one meter at a time. This persistence paid off, and on Oct. 9, their hole broke through, allowing the rescue of the miners.
“For whatever reason, God made a miracle and a billion people watched it,” Deacon Hall said.
Given Deacon Hall’s commitment to saving lives, it is ironic that his “Plan B” shares the name of a drug that in certain circumstances may act as an abortifacient. Today he is once again putting his business interests on the line for the cause of life. Through a costly and time-consuming process, his company was the first in Minnesota to secure a temporary injunction against the Health and Human Services mandate to provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drug coverage for employees. Without his experience in Chile, Deacon Hall said that he might not have had the fortitude to make this stand.
Deacon Hall, who serves at Christ the Redeemer Parish in Houston, will be telling his story at a breakfast at St. Edward’s University in Austin and a dinner at the Pebble Creek Country Club in College Station Feb. 1. Mary’s Touch, an inspirational radio program, invites the public to “Turning Point: The Greg Hall Story.” This event is sponsored by the Frontline Faith Project, which provides free MP3 players pre-loaded with Christian content to members of the armed forces throughout the world. Because the duties of enlisted men and women can make it impossible for them to attend Mass or religious services, chaplains have praised this project for helping to address the spiritual needs of the troops. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.frontlinefaithproject.org.