DARREN FLANAGAN

DARREN FLANAGAN

When Darren Flanagan was flown in to Beaconsfield to help rescue Todd Russell and Brant Webb, he had no idea of the journey he was about to embark upon.

Nowra, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Darren Flanagan received a call late on the Sunday night that Todd and Brant were discovered to be still alive. How that one phone call changed his life from that of an ordinary family man to a real hero of the great escape is an emotive, dramatic and exciting story. A private Lear Jet is hired at midnight to fly to Nowra and pick up Darren to take him directly to the mine, it is to be a flight that changes his life forever.

Darren was nicked named “The Gun” by Todd and Brant because he is the one who charges and fires the shots of the explosives that eventually release them from their tomb 925m underground. For a full week after his arrival at the mine he is underground test blasting on the 630m level to simulate what he hopes he never has to do.

He makes presentations to the mine management on the results achieved, this has never been done before anywhere in the world. The mine bosses are asking Darren to eventually blast to within 300mm of Todd and Brant’s bodies. All the while Darren realizing he carries immense pressure on his shoulders. “If I failed I knew that I would spend the rest of my life with the whole world pointing at me, saying, “That’s the guy that killed those miners””. As the distraught miner’s family’s watch, using specialist explosives that were designed to help reduce impact on expensive infrastructure but were never designed to be used near human beings. Darren starts to blast his way closer and closer to the trapped men.

Darren has spent a lot of time underground but has never had to work in a cracked and broken tunnel that is 16m long and only 1m in diameter and almost 1km inside the earth. He reveals he is so claustrophobic he can’t do up a sleeping bag. He works for 29 hours straight with ice cold water soaking him to the bone. He is afraid of closing his eyes, he can see the two men and his own anxious family. “When you are underground you can usually hear the ground taking to you, moaning and groaning. When it stops talking, you worry, the ground had now stopped talking.” Firing that very first shot was the hardest thing Darren will ever do in his life. He was petrified and so were Todd and Brant, the problem was that every other method to reach the boys had already been tried and failed, the blasting was a last resort and also the boy’s last chance. Darren crawls over razor sharp rocks letting off 65 explosions – all the time in contact with Todd and Brant by phone. They count down together “three, two, one, fire” so the miners can brace themselves for the effects of the explosions.

Thinking its over, Darren stumbles off to sit and cry with relief that he didn’t kill them. The mine bosses hug him but then they reveal that they want him to fire two more shots. Darren pleads with them, it is chancing too much. They have been lucky so far, but one more explosion could be the one that kills the men. Speaking to Todd and Brant over the phone they are aware of the increased risks but encourage Darren to carry on – it is their only chance. “Please don’t leave us here mate, you must promise me that you will stay until it’s finished,” Todd’s words still ring in Darren’s head.

So wrestling with his own demons he slowly crawls back up the tunnel, dragging himself by his arms because his knees are so badly cut and swollen. The tension in the air as Darren prepares for the final shots is unbelievable. Amazingly they bring the rescuers to within less than 300mm of Todd and Brant. Darren has received hundreds of letters from all over the world recognizing him as the man who blasted the miners to freedom, some people have called him the new Red Adair.

But his most treasured letter is from Todd that says “thanks for saving my life”. Darren is a humble and reluctant celebrity who has appeared on Sunr


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