A specific memory has stayed with Caleb Holloway since April 20, 2010, the night the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was torn apart off the coast of Louisana by an explosion that killed 11 crew members and became one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
“I remember sitting in the assistant driller shack with Adam filling out some paperwork,” Holloway, then 28 and working as a floor hand on the drilling crew, recalls of fellow crew member Adam Weise. The phone rang. It was Dewey Revette, the rig’s head driller. “He said, ‘Hey, I need one of you to go to the pump room.’ ”
Weise volunteered, and that was the last time Holloway, a Texas native, would see the young man he affectionately referred to as “my Texas buddy.” That night, a catastrophic blowout, caused by pockets of unstable methane shooting up the pipes, tore through the Deepwater Horizon, burning it for two days straight before sinking the vessel 5,000 feet to the ocean floor and releasing 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days. It remains the worst oil spill in human history and is the subject of the new film Deepwater Horizon, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, which opens Sept. 30. (Disclosure: Deepwater Horizonis produced by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media.)
The majority of the loss of life was to the men on the lower decks and in the pump room.
“He was down there with those guys,” Holloway, now 34, tells TakePart. “We could’ve been in different shoes. The whole thing was hard for me to wrap my head around. I lost some really good friends and family. I considered them brothers.”
Holloway hadn’t pictured himself working offshore. But when he was about 22, he attended a job fair with his cousin and was hired by a shallow-water drilling company; he started out on a small jack-up rig for a couple of years. When the company was bought out, Holloway found himself in the Transocean office in Houston, filling out an application. Two weeks later, he was on its training rig receiving his first assignment: the Deepwater Horizon.
“When I flew out there for the first time, it was just breathtaking,” he says. The rig weighed about 33,000 tons and was the length of a city block. “The Deepwater was the biggest rig I’d ever seen. Clean. It was a world’s difference. I knew it was going to be my new home. I was going to make it my new home.”
On the rig, Holloway started as a roustabout and worked his way up through the crane crew. There were various career paths to take—mechanical or electrical, for instance—but Holloway had his sights set on the drilling side. “The sub-sea portion, the deepwater stuff, the hydraulics” were what excited him, he says. When a spot opened up on the drilling crew, he was quick to take it and even quicker to bond with his fellow crew members. They grew to know one another’s likes and dislikes, went hunting and fishing together in their time off, and often read religious books and discussed them.
“We were like a well-oiled machine,” he says. “We worked really well together. We knew each other on a personal level.”
When the explosion hit, Holloway was working on the main deck instead of the drilling deck, alongside new team member Dan Barron. They would be the only members of the drilling team to make it out alive.
“I was really, really, really depressed and bad off for a year or so afterward,” Holloway says. “I wasn’t doing very well with it at all. Just the thought of not having those guys, and pretty much having the rug pulled out from under you, was really hard for me to accept.”
Questions continued to haunt him. “Is there anything I could’ve done different? Why couldn’t it have been me to go down to the pump room?” he says he asked himself.
Holloway knew he needed to start taking steps forward. He wanted to be there for the families of the fallen crew members, many of whom he had grown close to.
“I felt like I was dragging them down when I talked to them because I was having such a hard time with it. I needed to be strong for them, not the other way around,” he says. “[With] my strong faith in Jesus Christ and the support of my family and wife, I kind of made my way through it. It was a long road; it still is. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it or think about the guys.”
Now, with the film’s opening, Holloway acknowledges that it’s “definitely opening that chapter and wound again,” but he also sees it as an opportunity to honor his fallen friends.
“The guys we lost were kind of overshadowed by the oil spill,” he says. “It was a continuing story that kept on and on, and that was all you heard about. It was heartbreaking.”
Holloway had mixed emotions when he heard the project was in play, and then he spoke to Berg. “Mr. Peter wanted to do justice for my friends and the crew,” he recalls, an intention that made him feel better about the film overall. From there, Holloway met the cast and crew and worked closely with the actors to ensure they knew his friends like he knew them. “I wanted to do as much as I could to show them this is what we shared,” he says.
Actor Dylan O’Brien was cast to play Holloway. “I was really nervous to meet Caleb at first but really thankful that I could,” O’Brien said in a statement. “We had scheduled a meeting for just an hour, but that meeting then turned into us hanging out the rest of the day—and then he became the best friend I had on the project.”
Holloway and his wife screened the film privately, and he describes it as the hardest movie he has ever watched. “I was a mess through the whole thing,” he says. “I guess throughout the years, I kind of sugarcoated in my mind what might have happened…[but] I was just grateful that it honored the 11 men.”
Today, Holloway has two young sons—four-year-old Chase and 20-month-old Hayden—and works as a firefighter in Nacogdoches, Texas. When he looks ahead, he has a simple wish: “[The disaster was] something I’ll never forget, and I just want to be in a good spot with it,” he says. “I kind of want to push those memories away, some of those bad memories, but when I do that, I feel like I lose some of the good memories too. There’s a delicate balance with remembering what we had and the things that we did out there. My children will definitely know about it. They put me in the superhero category already.”
Deepwater Horizon is now playing in theaters nationwide. Watch the trailer below.
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