Background on the Drilling to Hell story
By Rich Buhler
I first heard about this story from people who started calling my radio program to ask about it in the early 1990s. There was such a flurry of calls that I finally promised the listeners I’d look into it. Most of the callers said they’d heard the story on Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian television network that originates from Southern California.
I called Trinity Broadcasting headquarters and asked about the story. I was transferred to a woman who said, ‘Oh yes, it’s true all right. We’ve got documentation. It’s in our latest newsletter.’
I was on the network’s mailing list, so I looked through a pile of recent mail and found the article. The newsletter said the details had come from the translation of an article in a Finnish newspaper named ‘Ammennusatia’. It claimed:
A geological group who drilled a hole about 14.4 kilometers deep in the crust of the earth are saying that they heard human screams. Screams have been heard from the condemned souls from earth’s deepest hole. Terrified scientists are afraid they have let loose the evil powers of hell up to the earth’s surface.
‘The information we are gathering is so surprising, that we are sincerely afraid of what we might find down there,’ stated Dr Azzacov, the manager of the project in remote Siberia.
The second surprise was the high temperature they discovered in the earth’s center. ‘The calculations indicate the given temperature was about 1,100 degrees Celsius, or over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit,’ Azzacov pointed out. ‘This is far more then we expected. It seems almost like an inferno of fire is brutally going on in the center of the earth.’
‘The last discovery was nevertheless the most shocking to our ears, so much so that the scientists are afraid to continue the project. We tried to listen to the earth’s movements at certain intervals with supersensitive microphones, which were let down through the hole. What we heard turned those logically thinking scientists into a trembling ruins. It was a sometimes a weak, but high pitched sound which we thought to be coming from our own equipment,’ explained Dr Azzacov.
‘But after some adjustments we comprehended that indeed the sound came from the earth’s interior. We could hardly believe our own ears. We heard a human voice, screaming in pain. Even though one voice was discernible, we could hear thousands, perhaps millions, in the background, of suffering souls screaming. After this ghastly discovery, about half of the scientists quit because of fear. Hopefully, that which is down there will stay there,’ Dr Azzacov added.
According to the Trinity Broadcasting Network newsletter, the Finnish article had been given to them by a Texas evangelist, R.W. Schambach, who was a frequent guest on their network.
We checked with Schambach’s office and were assured that the story was ‘absolutely true’ and had been substantiated. They said they had an article from a ‘respected scientific journal’ in Finland, as well as a letter from a Norwegian man, Age Rendalen, who had confirmed it. Rendalen had sent his letter directly to Trinity Broadcasting Network and the details he revealed added a new dimension to the story.
Rendalen told the network that he had visited United States a few weeks earlier and happened upon their telecast about the Drilling to Hell story. He wrote:
I must confess that I laughed when I heard your account… I did not believe one word of it, and commented to my friend that Americans sure were gullible to believe that hell could be physically located to a hole in the ground. I cannot even begin to tell you what a shock it was to me when I returned to Norway and found the newspapers full of reports about this incident. I knew immediately that if there was a hell, I for sure would end up in it. A tremendous fear took hold of me, and for two nights I dreamed about fire and screams until I surrendered to God and committed my life to his hands for safe-keeping.
In the letter, Rendalen went on to encourage the network not to let ‘skeptics’ interfere with their telling of the story. He included a copy and translation of what he claimed was an article from Norway’s largest and most reputable newspaper, with more information about the drilling.
Rendalen’s translation of the article told of opposition to the drilling by Russian atheists, as well as government intimidation to keep the scientists from telling the rest of the world about their discovery. The account, which drew on the eyewitness testimony of a Mr Nummedal, also added a new detail:
What really unnerved the Soviets, apart from the voice recordings, was the appearance that same night of a fountainhead of luminous gas shooting up from the drill site, and out of the midst of this incandescent cloud pillar a brilliant being with bat wings revealed itself with the words (in Russian): ‘I have conquered,’ emblazoned against the dark Siberian sky.
‘The incident was absolutely unreal; the Soviets cried out in terror,’ says Mr Nummedal. Later that night, he saw ambulance crews circulating in the community. A driver he knew told him that they had been told to sedate everybody with a medication known to erase short term memory. The Soviets use this drug in the treatment of shock victims.
So we now had not only a story about drilling into hell, but an additional version with a bat-like creature making an appearance.
My staff and I decided to roll up our shirt sleeves and trace the story as far as we could, especially since we had the names of newspapers and at least one individual who might know the facts.
The Finnish newspaper ‘Ammennusastia,’ which is quoted in nearly every account of the story, is located in an area called Levasjoki. We had a phone conversation with a staff member who told us the publication is not a ‘respected newspaper’ or a ‘scientific journal’, as we had been told, but a monthly publication of a group of Finnish Christians. The Drilling to Hell story, he said, had been based on the word of mouth recollection of another staff member, who had remembered reading it as a ‘major article’ in a Finnish daily newspaper called ‘Etela Soumen’.
We contacted this newspaper and at first they couldn’t recall or find the story. However, we later received a call saying they had discovered that the tale had appeared in their paper. It was not in an article, however, but in a feature section that included letters from readers who could write about almost anything they wished.
Through the newspaper, we tracked down the person who wrote the letter with the Drilling to Hell story. He was a kind, elderly man who, in spite of being reluctant to talk with us initially, told us through an interpreter that he couldn’t vouch for the credibility of the story. He got it, he said, from a Christian newsletter called ‘Vaeltajat’, which was published by a group of Finnish missionaries.
We next contacted ‘Vaeltajat’. The editor said the story had been printed in their July 1989 issue. Where did he hear about it? He had received it from one of their readers, who claimed it had appeared in a newsletter called ‘Jewels of Jericho’, published by a group of Jewish Christians in California. And that is where the Finnish trail came to an end.
One thing was clear at this point: The Drilling to Hell story was looking and smelling like a pretty typical urban legend. It was sensational, impossible to document, and only had life because of all the small publications that were quoting one another’s unsubstantiated stories.
However, there was still the Norwegian man, Age Rendalen, who had told the story of the ominous, bat-like creature emerging from the drill-hole. The article in the Trinity Broadcasting Network newsletter said he lived near Oslo, so we called directory assistance and found him in about 45 seconds. I talked with him on the phone myself:
‘Are you the one who sent information to a Christian television network in the United States about scientists drilling into hell?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ he said without hesitation.
‘Well,’ I continued, ‘Do you have any way of knowing whether it is true?’
‘Yes I do,’ he replied.
‘Tell me about it,’ I asked.
‘None of it is true,’ he said. ‘I fabricated every word of it!’
Rendalen went on to explain that he had visited the US a few weeks earlier and had seen the host of a Christian television program enthusiastically relating the Drilling to Hell story. He told me: ‘I couldn’t believe that the hosts really thought the story was true and that they would broadcast it without apparently having checked it out.’
When he returned to Norway, Rendalen sat down and fabricated the graphic story of the bat-like creature and sent his letter to the television network. His prediction was that they would use the story without investigating it. To make an investigation easy for them, he included his name, address and telephone number on his letter. He also included what he claimed was an article on the story from ‘Norway’s largest and most reputable newspaper’. In fact, the article, which he falsely translated, was a piece in his local community paper about a building inspector.
Rendalen also included the name and telephone number of a pastor friend based in Southern California. This pastor knew about the hoax and was prepared to reveal the truth if someone called to research it further with him.
However, as predicted, Trinity Broadcasting Network ran the story without contacting Renalden or the Californian pastor, and it appeared on television, radio and in a large number of publications. None of those who used the story attempted to research it before going public.
‘2000 PEOPLE HAVE FOUND CHRIST!’
On 6th February 1990, a listener of mine sent me a letter. She had videotaped and documented all three occasions when this story was discussed on the Christian TV show put out by the network. On 29th January 1990, the show host is documented as saying:
Let me just say, all of you that have written me all those nasty letters about the ‘hole in hell’, let me tell you I finally got the newspaper article which is from ‘The World Weekly’. This is an international newspaper that has been translated into English from Finnish. ‘Scientists fear they’ve opened gates of hell! Geologists drilling nine-mile hole hear human shrieks.’
I got a letter today from a geologist in Oklahoma and he’s really giving me a rough time. He says that there isn’t anything that could drill that deep. Folks, I’m just reporting what people have been sending to me and I don’t know if this is true or not. I know one thing, if this is a trick of the Devil, he sure has blown it, because I know of about 2,000 people that have found Christ because of it!
True or false, I’ll tell you what I’m doing, though. We’re now going to do some investigative reporting of our own and we’re going to check with the Finnish government and the Department of the Interior and we’re really going to follow this up and see if they really did drill a hole nine miles down there, if they really did have a microphone down there, if they really did hear human shrieks of agony and pain as this newspaper article and as did many letters I have received from over there have indicated to us. If I’m wrong and they’re right, I’ve got nothing to lose. But if I’m right and you’re wrong, you’ve got everything to lose.
Unfortunately, the investigation by the show took place too late to prevent the damage of a widely spread rumor in the Christian community.
Rendalen has now issued an official statement about his actions and the whole incident, which says: ‘The story is nothing more than a Christian “urban legend” without basis in reality.’
There are a couple of postscripts to this incident. One is that the respected magazine, ‘Biblical Archaeology Review’, printed a story about the Drilling to Hell story, thinking it was so outrageous that readers would get a kick out of it. Many of the readers took the article seriously, however, and either started passing it around as substantiation of the story, or wrote to the magazine to complain that it shouldn’t have given it respectability.
Secondly, in August of 1990, I was contacted by the pastor of a small church in Flagstaff, Arizona, who informed me that he had proof that this story was true. Apparently, a man from his church, who was believed to be a PhD in Physics from MIT, came forward in private to claim that he was a scientist who had been on a secret mission in Russia for the past year and had met with Mikhail Gorbachev several times. He verified that the Drilling to Hell story was indeed true. He claimed:
A hole was drilled deep into the crust of the earth in Siberia and a large cavity was found. Unfortunately, news of this was leaked to the press and was distorted. It is true that a recording was made of the sounds from deep in the hole, but the intense heat destroyed the microphone in spite of special cooling material around it, so that only seventeen seconds of sounds could be captured. At the present time, scientists are drilling a second hole to confirm what was found the first time. And a better system is being developed for cooling the microphone.
The scientist went on to claim that he was helping to design this microphone and was returning to Siberia shortly to further document the phenomenon. He planned to return in about a year with more confirming information on this amazing phenomenon.
Six months later, I got a letter from another member of the church saying that this man had turned out to be neither a graduate of MIT nor a scientist. In fact, he had skipped town with over $20,000 collected from church members who wanted to help finance his expedition.
How did this story originate? Again, we will never really know. It is possible that somewhere in the world there has been a spooky experience during deep drilling operations. I don’t know. According to an August 1989 article in ‘Science’ magazine, there is a Russian deep hole drilling project in Kola, near Murmansk, about 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Another German deep drilling experiment in north-east Bavaria has discovered warmer temperatures than were expected at certain drilling levels, although nothing even close to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Characteristic of many urban legends, this story was alleged to have occurred in an obscure part of the world where it would be virtually impossible to track down the facts. And once the story got started, people began quoting one another’s newsletters to validate their own. This is the stuff of which tabloid newspapers are made.