Faith Far Beneath the Surface

For 65 hours after the quake hit Haiti, this young American aid worker was trapped beneath a collapsed hotel. Here's his survival story, one year later.

By Daniel Woolley, Colorado Springs, Colorado

As appeared in

I took off my right sock and folded it into a compress for my head. I couldn’t let myself pass out. What if I didn’t wake up? I set the alarm on my phone to alert me every 20 minutes. Would I ever see my family again?

I pictured Christy’s smile, the one that hooked me the day I met her. I could almost hear Josh asking when I’d be home to play with him, Nathan hugging me tightly before I left, shouting, “I love you as big as the whole wooorld!” They’d hear about the earthquake and fear the worst.

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In the U.S., emergency workers would’ve been on the scene in minutes. But this was Haiti. All the people I’d met here had their own families to worry about. Who would know I was still alive?

If there was ever a time to reach out to God, it was now. Lord, I haven’t been in touch with you much lately, I prayed. Now I need you more than ever. I heard a faint sound. “Who’s there?” I shouted. “Jim,” a man answered. He and five others were trapped...several yards away, it sounded like.

I explained my surroundings as best I could. Jim did the same. We talked about why we were in Haiti. But as the minutes stretched into hours, the chatter died down.

A scraping noise. Was somebody digging us out? “Hello!” I yelled. “We’re down here!” The scraping stopped. “Hello?” It was a new voice, close. Not a rescuer. A hotel worker, trapped in the next elevator. I could hear the disappointment in Jim’s voice when I told him.

I knew we needed to hold onto hope. “Would you like to pray with me?” I called. “Yes, we would,” Jim answered. “Me too,” the hotel worker said. I said aloud what I’d been praying silently. “We ask you for a miracle, Lord. Rescue us.”

Jim and the others repeated my prayer. “Thank you for that,” Jim said.

Night came, and with it, silence. Again I thought about Christy and the kids. If I didn’t make it, I wanted them to know my last thoughts were of them. I shifted and felt something dig into my side. My journal was still in my pocket, along with a pen. I used the camera flash to find an empty page.

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If found, please give to my wife, Christina. I love you. I have never stopped loving you or even slowed down. Don’t give up, Christy, no matter how hard it is. God will make a way. To the boys I wrote, Don’t be upset at God.... He always provides for his children, even in hard times. He will always take care of you.

I wrote my will and lists of practical things–email passwords, how to access our online banking. By the time I was done, I was exhausted. I put the notebook down. I turned my iPhone off to save the battery. I drifted off.

Rhythmic thumping above woke me. Helicopters! But all day we waited, and no rescuers came. I felt drained. No food and no water for more than 24 hours, and I needed a doctor, badly. I closed my eyes, not sure I’d ever open them again.

I saw Josh and Nathan. But they were taller, older. We were on a camping trip. Then, in a flash, I was at Josh’s high-school graduation. I lifted my camera, but when I looked through the viewfinder, the boys were already adults, posing with their own children.

“Dan!” a voice shouted. I jolted awake. Everything was dark. It took me a moment to realize where I was. I lit up my phone: 10 p.m. on Thursday. I was still in the elevator. Had my dream been wishful thinking? Or something else: a promise? Lord, I pleaded, please let me see my boys grow up.

“Dan!” It was Jim. “I’m here,” I shouted back. “We hear voices,” Jim said. I listened. People were talking in French. One of the survivors had made contact with a rescue team through a small hole, Jim told me.

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