Demolition men: Meet the crew that will raze the Supertech twin towers
HT spent time with the team to find out why they are the right men for this seemingly impossible feat and why the authorities trust them with the safety and well-being of citizens
To safely pull down 103 metres tall twin towers, and that too in the middle of a thickly populated residential locality such as Noida’s Sector 93A is a daunting task even for the most seasoned demolition expert.
On August 28, a group of seven dedicated men of South African firm Jet Demolitions along with Edifice Engineering will attempt that very feat when they implode the Supertech twin towers -- the third tallest buildings in the world and the country’s tallest to be destroyed in a controlled blast.
They count among their skills mathematical genius, surgical precision and absolute untiring energy levels, which make them “very machine-like” in efficiency.
Their love for their job and, more importantly, their concern for the safety of people and property in the vicinity of the demolition site make them “very human”.
HT spent time with the team to find out why they are the right men for this seemingly impossible feat and why the authorities trust them with the safety and well-being of citizens.
Master blaster Uncle Joe
Helming the whole exercise is 62-year-old Joseph Robert Brinkkman or “Uncle Joe” as his team affectionately calls him. He is the master blaster; the brain behind the entire operation. According to everyone else in the team, they just know what to do, but only Joe knows why.
“There is no book on demolition and there are no courses. It’s all in his mind; his personal intellectual property,” says Uttkarsh Mehta, partner, Edifice Engineering.
Every single one of the 9,462 holes drilled into the twin towers, their purpose, location, and size, down to the millimetre, was decided by Brinkkman. The kind and quantity of explosives being used in each and every hole, up to the last milligram, has been personally measured and decided by him.
“I have the best job in the world,” he says. “Every boy loves to break things and I turned that love into my passion.”
Hailing from the United States, he moved to South Africa with his wife, a metallurgical engineer, in the early 1980s. The couple started Jet Demolitions in 1994 and since then, many a tall tower has crumbled before them.
When you tell Brinkkman that people usually retire at 60 around here, he seems surprised. “And do what? I plan to work till at least 80,” he says. It’s very likely that he will, too, because even his younger team mates find it difficult to match the energy levels of this cycling enthusiast.
Kevin Smit, senior site manager, Jet Demolitions, says, “I don’t walk with him if we have to go to the top of the twin towers. I feel ashamed because I’m panting by the time we reach the top. I try to cop out and trot on later.”
Smit, the unstoppable
Smit is the unstoppable “blue-eyed boy” of the team. The South African was working as a young civil engineer at a construction site when a petrochemical plant was demolished in front of his eyes. And he found his love.
“I found myself looking at it for two whole hours, completely enthralled. I had found my love. I looked up who executed the demolition and sent a mail to Jet seeking an interview the same day. Three days later, I joined Jet,” says the 35-year-old.
Since shifting from construction to deconstruction in 2012, he has been part of multiple demolition projects. The twin towers, he says, has been exhausting and also exhilarating. His endless energy has others flummoxed -- the man refuses to wait for a lift and instead prefers to climb up all 32 floors to the top.
“The elevator takes 17 minutes to reach the top. That is too slow. I’m quicker, and my speed has gotten dramatically better over the months,” says Smit.
Botha, the soul of the team
Marthinus Botha, the chief safety officer and blast coordinator, has the responsibility of ensuring safety at demolition sites and it is a tall task.
“He brings lots of energy and laughter to the team; he keeps us grounded,” says Smit, who did most of the talking while Botha sat with folded hands, smiling. As Smit talks, he nods along, but is quick to interrupt when he feels that Smit got something wrong. “Uhoh... That’s not correct,” he says and Smit explains the rest.
This trio -- Brinkkman, Smit and Botha -- are the mind, body and soul of the entire operation, say the four others on the team, who have been sweating it out in the Delhi summer for the past four months.
Ian Ehlers, the photographer
Ehlers, when not busy with blast preparations and diagrams, is handy with a camera and is the group’s designated photographer, videographer and video editor. He is the one who takes care of entire planning, scheduling and detailing what will be done and when.
Elias Nthidi , the machine whisperer
There is not a demolition machine in the world that Nthidi cannot operate or master. He is also the older and serious one when it comes to the job.
“This project brought us together and we have suffered together; most importantly, we watched cricket together. Cricket is our one common love and we always make time to watch the matches,” says Smit.
Kleynhans, the strongman
Nolan Kleynhans is the biggest, tallest and strongest in the whole team, says his fellow mates. He oversees work when Smit is not around. He is an expert in “wrapping” and trained the entire crew on how to “wrap buildings with geotextile fabric”, so as to contain the blast and stop flyaway debris.
Mathebula, the go-getter
Petrus Mathebula is the go-getter who never complains. He is the most hard working of the team and dedicates a lot of time to the execution on ground.
Mayur Mehta, project manager, Edifice Engineering, said, “We have one of the best teams in the world working on this project. They work hard and play harder.”
All on-site work and preparations have been mainly handled by Mehta, along with Smit, whom he calls his “adopted son”. The duo had also managed the Maradu apartment complex implosions in Kochi in 2020 and the twin towers are their second big project as a team.
Uttkarsh Mehta and Jigar Chheda, the yin & yang partners
Anchoring the biggest demolition project of the country are Uttkarsh Mehta and Jigar Chheda of Edifice Engineering.
“Uttkarsh is the face of Edifice. He gets the business and takes it forward. He handles all coordination with the clients and authorities. He is our marketing man. He knows how to talk and what to say, how much to say and to whom. I can’t do that,” says Chheda, the backstage man of the team, who proudly declares that he is not even an engineer.
“To know demolition, you should know how to build. I worked with my cousin for several years on construction projects. I have no knowledge in theory, but lots of practical experience,” says Chheda.
Mehta says Jigar is the one who makes the tough calls. “He is always behind the scenes but manages every single thing. He makes the site productive, handles ordering, timely purchases, coordination between site and office, budgeting and all executive decisions,” says Mehta.
Jigar started a small company in 2004 that carried out anchoring, coring, and diamond cutting works-- all processes related to demolitions as well. In 2012, Mehta joined him and they started Edifice together, getting into full scale demolitions. In the years since, Edifice has carried out over 1,500 demolitions, including four implosions.
Supertech twin towers, the partners say, will be their least profitable project and yet their most rewarding one.