One of those FAQs of writers, directors, producers is “Where do you get your ideas from?” which always sounds as if there is a magic ideas tree from which creatives can harvest the fruit when needs want. In truth, ideas come from the most unlikely of sources—from dreams to the sayings of some well-beloved aunt. When Gerry Anderson, the producer and director of the hit puppet shows as Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Stingray, was thinking up ideas for his next series, his imagination was captured by the tragic events of a mining disaster in Germany.
In October 1963, a discharge lake situated over the Lengede-Broistedt mine flooded the shafts and tunnels deep underground. 129 workers were trapped by the flood water. During the first few hours, 79 of the miners managed to escape by climbing ladders in the mine’s ventilation shafts, but there were still 50 miners unaccounted for. Just when the rescuers had almost given up hope of finding the missing miners, a metallic sound was heard tapping out a signal deep underground. A small bore hole was drilled and microphones lowered to communicate with those miners trapped more than 190 feet down. It was then decided the only way to rescue these men was to use a special drill, however, this drill was eight hours away in Bremen. While they waited for it to arrive, food, coffee and medical supplies were lowered to the men trapped far underground.
Painting of the ‘Wunder von Lengede’ by Helmuth Ellgaard.
The whole rescue operation was fraught with difficulties—the excavation of rescue shaft took two weeks, removing four-and-half feet of rubble every hour. The rescuers were battling time and the constant threat of the flood waters rising underground because of depressurization. The pressure had to be kept artificially high underground, and a specially designed “bullet-shaped” decompression chamber was built which enabled the rescuers to bring men singly to the surface. In total eleven men were eventually rescued by November 7, 1963—nineteen had died in the initial explosion and ten from wounds while awaiting rescue.
The “miracle of Lengede” was carried in newspapers and television reports across the world. Among those gripped by the rescue story was Gerry Anderson, who saw in it the idea for his next television production Thunderbirds. Anderson devised the idea of a team of international rescuers, who traveled across the world rescuing those in peril of major disasters. So, was born the Tracy family and International Rescue—F.A.B.