From the S&S archives: Red Adair: Chasing after catastrophe

Red Adair poses after the completion of the job.


By ED REAVIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 26, 1980

THE FIRST THING "Red" Adair wanted to know after capping the 15-day-old methane gas blowout at Frankenthal, Germany, was who won the first game of the World Series.

Adair thrives on catastrophe and has become a legend in the process.

Adair's the man who first capped an underwater well on a floating vessel and the first U.S. well to be capped while on fire. He's the man who snuffed the "Devil's Cigarette Lighter" in the Sahara Desert in 1962, the massive offshore blaze at Bay Marchand, La., in 1970, the Bravo offshore blowout in the North Sea in 1977 and the IXTOIC #1 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979.

During the 10 days he spent at Frankenthal he never failed to talk up the good work of the men around him and downplay the potential danger. The first was sincere; the second was master diplomacy.

Journalists and guests allowed within the proscribed safety area had to sign waivers on any damage to their persons they might incur. At one time smoking wasn't allowed even within this "safe" area.

A spokesman for Saar Ferngas, the German natural gas company, expressed deep admiration for Adair's meticulous way of doing things.

"Mr. Adair's precautions and exact style of work and his calmness on the job visibly allayed the anxieties we all had before his arrival," one of them said.

Adair successfully capped the blowout in the following manner:

The well consisted of three concentric pipes spouting gas. He dug some 40 feet down around the pipe and laid a cement foundation around the well to give the workers good footing.

He then proceeded to cut the three pipes into varying protruding lengths. Then he placed three "preventers" on the openings of these pipes. The "preventer" is a clamp with an opening on one side for the gas to escape.

Pipes are attached to the opening and the gas is led about 100 feet away from the well. With all the preventers in place, the well is considered "capped" and the gas can be controlled and "turned off" with hydraulic valves.

The touchy part of the job was cutting the pipe and placing the preventers.

Adair, his American assistant, Brian Krause, and the six German volunteers worked in the rain under very slippery conditions. They had to be extremely careful not to cause that spark that would have "blown us out."

Adair, whose motto is "Nothing is impossible," said the danger of a job is calculable. "You consider the danger but you don't think about it because nobody can work with fear."

At one point the whole team almost lost consciousness. The force of the blowout sucked the oxygen out of the hole-worksite.

"The gas was burning our faces and then I saw Brian's nose bleeding and realized what was happening," Adair said.

They got out and timed their stays in the hole.

Adair said it would have been easier to work the blowout had it been burning and, at one point, they even considered igniting it.

"You can see fire, but with gas you never know where it is or if you'll do something to set it off," Adair said.

Adair never answers the question of how much he earns and the press speculations ranged from $50,000 a day to 10 percent of the total damage. Adair and his client in this case, the Saar Ferngas, laughed at those figures.

Asked when he got time to spend all his money, Adair answered with a smile, "I don't have any money."

Adair was full of praise for the Germans who worked with him, a total of 150 people.

"I've never seen a vacuum pump like the one they used to keep the water out of the hole, and the crane operator was first-class."

The 65-year-old Adair said he was tired but happy. "Every time you finish one of these jobs you go through a sinking spell."

The German woman who interpreted for Adair said it was fascinating work, "but he keeps a hellish pace that men half his age would have trouble keeping. He worked an average of 15 hours a day."

Adair said the qualities he looked for in an employee were, "hard working and most of all, somebody who can re-think a situation quickly and not get into a mental rut."

Adair said he is swamped by young men wanting to work for his company.

"Everytime my name's in the paper, we get hundreds of calls from all over the country."

One quality Adair failed to mention was "faith" in the boss's ability. One young man who has that faith and has been with Adair for three years is the 24-year-old Krause. Krause keeps the Adair pace and loves it. He was popular at Frankenthal because of his German family name.

"Yeh, my grandfather was a German from Hamburg, but my grandmother was a Cajun from Louisiana." Krause said.

Krause said he dropped out of college after two years and met Adair while racing boats.

"I didn't fully realize what I was getting into but now I love it. The company is like a family — we're eight people attuned to each other's every move, because on the site you work with sign language. I'm tired after a job but after three or four days rest I start climbing the walls waiting for the next call. It's real habit-forming," Krause said.

He seldom has to wait long. At one point they had five fires going at the same time. Adair said that "was just too much".

Adair said he hoped to get back to Houston to see his wife, see some football games and do some boat racing in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. But he might have to go to Suez because of another blowout there.

In the hole Adair wears his famous red suit and helmet. He also wears a heavy, custom-made Swiss wristwatch and a six-carat diamond ring which, according to a German jeweler, has a current market price of around $1 million.

Red Adair's services didn't come without a high price, as the custom-made Rolex watch and six-carat diamond ring would attest.