Submarine Captains Play Key Roles In Mine Rescue

first_imgBy Dialogo November 04, 2010 So many Americans contributed to the success of this rescue. Good to hear one more story. I guess the USNA knows about their grad that helped to accomplish this miracle? Read Dialogo’s exclusive interview with Capt. Renato Navarro Genta here. They met in the high Chilean desert — an unlikely backdrop for two accomplished submarine captains. But that encounter at the San José copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert near Copiapó played a major role in events that were about to unfold before a worldwide audience. Clint Cragg, a NASA engineer and the former captain of the USS Ohio, accompanied a team of doctors to the mine where 33 workers were trapped underground. The team traveled to Chile to provide advice on keeping the men physically and mentally healthy. Navarro and Cragg hit it off, and their relationship became the informal conduit that accelerated communication between NASA and the Chilean Navy. “It was through him that I met the Chilean Navy engineers on the site who were designing the capsule,” Cragg said. That’s the famous Fenix capsule that eventually brought all 33 miners to the surface. The Chileans initially asked NASA for medical and psychological assistance due to the agency’s experience in harsh environments. But Cragg’s bosses sent him along to see how else NASA might be able to help. Cragg found a perfect opportunity to share NASA’s engineering expertise after meeting Navarro and the Chilean engineering team. He briefed the Chilean Minister of Health on ways NASA could help with designing the capsule, and the Chileans accepted his proposal soon after he returned to his office at Langley. “I put together a team of engineers from almost every center around the agency,” Cragg said in an agency newsletter. “Over the course of three days we hammered out a 12- to 13-page list of requirements for the capsule and sent that to the Chilean Minister of Health.” He also sent a copy to his new friend Navarro. The NASA team offered about 50 suggested design features, Cragg said. One was that the capsule be built so a single miner could easily enter and secure himself. Another was that the cage be equipped with an oxygen tank. The team also suggested that the capsule design include technology to cut down on friction it might encounter while moving through the tunnel. The capsule performed almost flawlessly in front of a worldwide television audience last month. Cragg said he was thrilled to learn from one of the Chilean Navy commanders that they had incorporated most of the NASA suggestions into the design. Capt. Renato Navarro of the Chilean Navy, head of its submarine school, worked with another team to support the miners. The Chileans realized early on that submariners were naturally suited to offer guidance on long-term survival in confined spaces. At that early stage, plans to extricate the miners were in their infancy and the site was awash with people eager to help. That’s when the submariners met. “It was fortuitous, it wasn’t planned that way,” Cragg said. Cragg accompanied the health team, but his expertise as an engineer and sub commander soon came to the forefront. “It helped a lot because I had some credibility right from the beginning,” Cragg said. Cragg graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1978 and entered the submarine and naval nuclear power training program. He served aboard the USS Sand Lance, USS Trepang, USS Alabama, USS Tunny and, finally, as commanding officer of the USS Ohio. He also earned M.A. degrees in Strategic Studies and International Relations from the Naval War College. After completing four strategic deterrent patrols as commander of the Ohio, Cragg was assigned as the Chief of Current Operations, US European Command. While in Europe he participated in a number of operations, which included the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Cragg had a chance encounter with an admiral as he was pondering his post-Navy career while stationed in Europe. “I had this two-star admiral I had to talk to every day. One day there was this one-star admiral out in the hall and we were shooting the breeze and he said, ‘try NASA, they do similar things to what we do now.’” It was a perfect fit. “The organization I am part of is the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, which was set up after the Columbia disaster,” Cragg said. “I like the job, it’s like the Navy in that every day is different.” Cragg has been thrust into the media spotlight since his role in the rescue came to light. “You know there are certain people who see a microphone and they fall in love it,” Cragg said. “I certainly am not. But I am certainly glad to highlight our strengths. I don’t mind doing it for NASA.” Cragg said his wife, Agatha, has been supportive and has “gone along with the flow” in recent weeks. He has three children, one in college, one in high school and one in elementary school. Submarine experience Engineering the capsule The submariners’ experience with confined space and isolation proved invaluable even though the San José mine is more than 100 miles from their deep blue home. “One of the things our psychologists pointed out was those miners needed some meaningful work,” Cragg said. “That’s the same thing we do on submarines. Everybody has to stand watch on a ship, you have training and drills.” Cragg said Navarro took a leadership role in making sure the miners had meaningful work. The miners ended up helping with their own rescue, moving the tons and tons of rock that fell into the mine while the rescue shaft was being drilled. Cragg said he was moved by all the naval references used during the rescue. “Even the Chilean president told the last miner out: ‘You are the captain of the ship.’ ” Clint Cragglast_img

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