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Creating Thunderbirds: The Real Pit of Peril

On 24 October 1963, the Lengede-Broistedt mine near Salzgitter was flooded with 500,000 m³ of muddy water after a sedimentation pond had broken its ground and the tunnels between the 60 m and 100 m levels. Out of 129 workers, 79 managed to escape during the first few hours. They used Underground mine ventilation raises and further shafts which had been provided with ladders due to safety regulations. At first there seemed to be no hope for the remaining 50 miners. Several attempts and deliberations about possible rescue positions within the mine and the successful rescue of miners at the one or other locations gave raise to a sequence of dramatic and technically challenging rescue missions with a hitherto unseen worldwide media coverage.

On 7th November 1963 11 West German miners were rescued from a collapsed mine after surviving for 14 days, an event that later became known as the Wunder von Lengede (“miracle of Lengede”).

One man in particular had been following the events very closely, and was utterly inspired by the heroic and ingenious rescue. He was also struck by the need for some sort of International Rescue organisation which could step in with specialist equipment at a moment’s notice – to speed up rescues, and save human lives. He was so inspired by it, that at his next pitch meeting with Lew Grade, he used the story to formulate his next, and probably greatest, TV show. The man was Gerry Anderson, and the TV show that was inspired by this terrible disaster was Thunderbirds!

As Thunderbirds approaches it’s 50th anniversary of production (2014) and transmission (2015), it seems only right that we should look at where the inspiration for the series came from… It’s fascinating to think that 50 years ago today, Gerry was reflecting on the rescue that had just happened, and that he was gradually beginning to formulate the basis of what would become one of the most successful and influential TV shows ever created!

With thanks to Stephen La Riviere (Twitter: @la_riviere) for the interview footage. ©Stephen La Riviere 2013

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