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Buried in Haiti rubble, U.S. dad wrote goodbyes

Trapped under a collapsed hotel in Haiti, Dan Woolley wrote farewells to his loved ones. But using his iPhone camera and a first-aid app, he treated his own injuries, positioned himself safely, and was rescued after 65 hours. “Don’t be upset at God," read his bloody note to his sons.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The words on the pages of the plain black notebook are written in a semi-scrawl, punctuated by smears of blood — stark evidence of the desperation in which they were written.

Sitting with his wife, Christina, in Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, Dan Woolley showed the notebook to TODAY’s Meredith Vieira via satellite hookup Tuesday. Trapped for 65 hours under tons of wreckage in the lobby of his hotel by Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake and knowing he could die, Woolley had written notes to his two young boys and his wife.

“I always wanted to survive, but I knew that was something that I couldn’t control. So I decided if I had to go, I wanted to leave some last notes for them,” Woolley said. Opening the book and fighting his emotions, he read an entry he addressed to his sons, Josh, 6, and Nathan, 3:

“I was in a big accident. Don’t be upset at God. He always provides for his children, even in hard times. I’m still praying that God will get me out, but He may not. But He will always take care of you.”

‘Boy, I cried’Woolley had taken refuge in an elevator shaft, where he used an iPhone first-aid app to treat a compound fracture of his leg and a cut on his head. He had already used his digital SLR camera’s focusing light to illuminate his surroundings, and taken pictures of the wreckage to help find a safe place to wait to be rescued — or to die.

Writing the notes to his wife and children wasn’t easy, the deeply religious man said.

“Boy, I cried,” he admitted. “Obviously, no one wants to come to that point. I also didn’t want to just get found after having some time — God gave me some time — to think and to pray and to come to grips with the reality. I wanted to use that time to do everything I could for my family. If that could be surviving, get out, then I would. If it could be just to leave some notes that would help them in life, I would do that.”

Woolley had been working for Compassion International, a mission organization, making a film about the impact of poverty on the people of Haiti. He and a colleague, David Hames, had just returned to the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince from a day of filming when the earthquake struck.

“I just saw the walls rippling and just explosive sounds all around me,” Woolley told Vieira. “It all happened incredibly fast. David yelled out, ‘It’s an earthquake,’ and we both lunged and everything turned dark.”

Awaiting his fate
Woolley is nearsighted and lost his glasses in the quake. But by using the focusing light on his camera and taking pictures, he was able to figure out where he was and where to go. And thanks to the iPhone first-aid app he’d downloaded, he knew how to fashion a bandage and tourniquet for his leg and to stop the bleeding from his head wound. The app also warned him not to fall asleep if he felt he was going into shock, so he set his cell phone’s alarm clock to go off every 20 minutes.

And then for 65 hours, he waited for whatever fate had in store for him.

Woolley attributes his survival and rescue by a French rescue team to divine providence. One other member of Woolley’s team was also rescued, but as of Tuesday, Hames had not been found.

The Hotel Montana is also where a student group from Florida’s Lynn University was staying. Four of those students remain missing along with two faculty advisers.

“A lot of people were praying for safety for this trip, and I was working for Compassion International,” Woolley said. “A lot of prayers go out for the work that we do, so I believe that God was present with me and He decided he wanted me to survive, and so He was with me and helped me in those moments.”

Moments of despairWhile Woolley concentrated on surviving, his wife, Christina, struggled to cling to hope — not always successfully.

“I went through moments of despair,” Christina admitted to Vieira. “I gave up several times, and I thought I’d never see Dan again.”

But, like her husband, Christina said her faith sustained her. She said she had a certain knowledge that “wherever Dan was, God was holding Dan in the palm of his hand. I just didn’t know if that was in Haiti or in heaven. I was begging God that Dan would still be in Haiti.”

On Tuesday, four days after his rescue, Dan and Christina were eagerly looking forward to returning to their Colorado Springs home and reuniting with their sons.

“That’s going to be a very emotional experience,” said Dan, who just a few days ago was writing those blood-smeared notes to the boys. “I’ve spoken to them on the phone several times, but to just hug their heads and touch their curly hair and just love on them and wrestle with them — as long as they don’t hurt my leg — it’s going to be amazing, a dream come true.”