Foam dart guns, “lassos” and ingenuity

Field techs get creative to re-connect Big Sur residents after massive landslide takes AT&T cable into ocean

AT&T Field Technicians Eric Nelsen and Michael Morasca arrived at the scene of what felt like an apocalyptic movie.

The setting was California’s famous State Highway 1 running along the Pacific Ocean coastline. You may have seen this idyllic, oceanside highway fully intact in the HBO series “Big Little Lies.”

But after the area was hit by heavy rains earlier this year, a 150-foot portion of it dropped into the ocean, taking our cable with it.

That cable is the only line of communication for residents living near Big Sur, California, which meant Eric and Michael had to move fast. But how do you fix a cable that is ripped in half, with both sides dangling 30 feet down a cliff and into the ocean below?

“We brainstormed and decided if we could retrieve the 2 ends of the cable, from both the south and north side of the gap, we could then string some type of temporary cable across the canyon to restore services,” Eric said. 

So, with a plan worthy of the best TV Westerns, Eric and Michael used their ropes as lassos to hook and pull up the cables hanging over the cliff edge. 

“We’ve never considered ourselves cowboys, but we did a pretty good job wrangling that cable from the hillside and pulling it up safely,” Eric joked. 

But they still had to come up with a way to “shoot a wire over the gap.” So, with the help of coworker Scott Cardinalle, they devised a plan to use their company-issued foam dart gun, with a string attached. They shot a line across the 150-foot canyon to Scott on the other side. And it worked! The team was able to splice the cable and confirmed phone lines were back up.

Jon Mohnike, the team’s manager, said the team restored service quickly, in less than 48 hours.

“My guys all have over 20 years with the company and know how important phone lines are to customers, especially in a remote area like this,” Jon said. “They treat customers like family and know we need to step up and do our job, even when conditions are challenging.”

And as Michael says “adverse conditions are part of the job.” 

Eric said his team also restored service last year minutes before residents received a reverse 911 call, asking them to evacuate because of encroaching wildfires.  

Since the initial fix after the mudslide, the team moved the temporary cable again as construction crews worked to repair the roads. Working closely with other teams across AT&T, including Construction & Engineering, they adjusted the cable, running it around a nearby mountain – going the extra mile to keep our customers connected to the world around them.

“I feel we go looking for the most unique and difficult jobs, because we enjoy what we do. Knowing that just maybe we helped someone that day – by restoring service – makes us feel good,” Eric said.

Did you know?

Our technicians use foam dart guns for many reasons, like to help run cable through attics, tight crawl spaces and other challenging areas. Or, in this case, across a large span of missing Pacific Coast Highway.