We all know it’s almost impossible to get any money out of a Greek bank at the moment but Martin Newton has flown to Athens to see what was in a Greek safe and got well paid for his efforts in opening and restoring it.
Safe Opening has changed for me during the last 25 years, at that time I was one of a few technicians with skills and knowledge.
Now I am one of several who are well equipped and capable. I have in fact, trained a lot of them. This situation has driven me towards specialising more and more into non-destructive techniques. Throw electronic locks into the mix, which I hate and that mostly leaves me with picking and Combination Manipulation.
I would like to think that I have built a reputation for being accomplished at the latter skill simply through study, persistence, practice and determination. Every now and then this pushes my name forward as someone who might take on some of the more challenging jobs that are out there. These jobs often involve some extra travel.
I have to say that I have mixed emotions about the travel aspect, particularly when it involves flying. Baggage allowance and security checks are a complete pain.
When some of photos you can see in this article landed in my inbox I was more than curious about the possibility of yet another challenge.
This is a bank vault in Athens, Greece. Three hours flying from the UK.
Both doors access the same space and both are locked by 3 manual combination locks. On first glance the door is made by Chubb, which is correct. However the lock dials were ringing alarm bells. The change index is at the 11 o’clock position, which on those dials made me think indirect drive Chubb 7R51’s.
I spoke with Gary Stephenson, Chubb’s top UK engineer and after sending him the photo’s he doubted it, as they were traditionally isolator locks only fitted on those units. That left us both thinking maybe the Chubb brass vault locks or S&Gs or similar that have been fitted with Chubb dials.
The owner had contacted a couple of people both locally and abroad and with all the advice he was given he and a local engineer managed to open the top and bottom locks on both doors, they were set on the factory numbers. This left me thinking that the doors were previously only used on the middle locks and that they most likely contained genuine combinations.
The local engineer wanted to run some numbers so I had a couple of days with no contact and then the owner was back on email asking my opinion on auto dialers and core drilling the wall. I told him it was his choice but I felt that he might regret both. I am not a big fan of either. Shortly after that I had another email from the owner containing the following information: ‘I attach a letter I got from our safe engineer with the make and models of the door and locks on our safe. As it is in Greek I will translate it for you’.
Stainless steel door chubbsafes 4 1/2″ Malaysian Factory that locks with three Sargent & Greenleaf mod 6731 Vds Class 2
Painted door chubb safes 3 1/2″ Malaysian Factory that locks with three At the moment both doors have the top and bottom locks unlocked. Only the middle one remains locked.
I was still unsure about the quality of the info but decided there was a better than reasonable chance that either with manipulation or SEMS I could solve the problem. I put in a price with certain conditions, which was agreed without discussion.
Monday evening I left London Heathrow and arrived in Athens at 03.00 local time.
I jumped in a taxi, driven by the Greek equivelant of Lewes Hamiltion and we raced through the streets at about 140 kph arriving at the site location at about 03.30.
The on site security checked my I.D. and showed me to the doors. I went to the painted door first, picked up all the wheels, took them left and parked them on 50. I went back to the contact area to feel the right contact that was nice and firm in the dead area of the dial. So for me this was a S&G 4 wheel 6731 that could be manipulated.
I started my process of parking wheels 1,2 & 3 and just running wheel 4.
Within 5 minutes 40 jumped out. I then left 1 & 2 parked and ran wheel 3, 30 jumped out in about the same amount of time. At that point my mind was doing somersaults and I started doing all the stuff that I would tell others not to do. I put in 10, 20, 30, 40 and rattled the dial. I then spent several minutes running random whole number combinations 60, 50, 30, 40 etc.
Then it dawned on me to check 20 as the second number. The lock liked it and constantly indicated 20 to be correct. I then ran wheel 1 in 2s all around the dial with 2 on 20, 3 on 30, 4 on 40 but it would still not open.
At that point I asked my self what am I sure of – wheel 4 was 40 and wheel 3 was 30. I was unsure of 1 & 2 having ran 1 all of the dial. I decided to park it on 10 and run wheel 2. At a number close to 20 and within 6 numbers of it the lock opened.
Having had no sleep for about 24 hours I have to say I was both relieved and confused. My agreement with the owner was to lock the lock and then give him the code when a payment was made to my account. Well there was no way I was locking it up as I new it was faulty, so I opened the guts up and inspected it after dialing several openings of 10, 20, 30, 40. Wheel 2 was floating in different positions, that, I am now assuming was down to grease or crap in the lock.
Lock-up and bed
My resolve was to set it on 50 and leave it open and reset the top lock to a known number by me and lock it up. I found a hotel close to the job and booked myself in at about 5am.
After a few hours sleep I invoiced the job and received payment electronically.
I went back to the site and met with the custodian where we discussed the way ahead. All of the locks were going to be replaced. Moving into the vault we hit another obstacle, a locked grill gate (pictured on previous page) secured by 2 x Union 5 lever security lever locks. No keys to be found anywhere.
Ordinarily with my picking tools I could pick these open in a few minutes but I had no tools with me. The locks were going to be outside of the local locksmith expertise so I took some videoscope pictures with a view to replicating the locks and making keys when I got back home. There are only 6 lever heights and the lock has an ABA pattern, I might have to cut about 10 keys to each lock to cover the possibilities but I thought it would work.
The final part of my reflection was concerning the Chubb spindle and how it attached to the dial. The dial head was standard with a reduced blank diameter that joins to the S&G sized spindle. This would make the use of SEMS extremely difficult if not impossible due to the lack of spline slot at the dial end of the spindle.
The easiest way to drill the safe would be above the glass and over the top with a flexible scope. All good information should I encounter another one.
There is no doubt that the challenge of this job was made more so by all the uncertainty, having to fly to the job and tiredness. Ironically those are the things that seem to drive me on.