Gulf Oil Rig Sinks, 11 Workers Missing and Feared Dead
NEW ORLEANS - An oil rig that exploded in one of the worst offshore drilling disasters in recent U.S. history sank into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, with still no sign of 11 missing crewmembers.
The Deepwater Horizon sank about 10 a.m. after burning for roughly 36 hours. Survivors of Tuesday night's explosion told company officials that some of the missing crewmembers were around the area of the explosion when the rig unexpectedly went up in flames.
Rescue teams scouring the wreckage site, about 42 miles off the Louisiana coast, have found no signs of the 11 workers, said Rear Adm. Mary Landry, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard's 8th District. Coast Guard crews recovered two of the rig's lifeboats, but both were empty, she said.
In all, 126 people were on board the rig when it exploded. Seventeen people were injured, four critically.
The Coast Guard is also focused on minimizing any potential environmental impact. A large 1-by-5-mile sheen of crude oil and other substances has spread from the site of the rig's sinking, Landry said.
It's unclear how much crude will continue to flow from the wrecked rig. On Wednesday, Landry said the rig was spewing about 13,000 gallons of crude oil per hour.
Coast Guard crews have readied planes that drop substances that break up the crude, Landry said. Officials at BP, which leased the rig, have also dispatched skimming boats and about 1 million feet of boom, or plastic tubing that surround and contain spills, said Dave Rainey, vice president of BP's Gulf of Mexico exploration.
"It certainly has the potential to be a major spill," he said.
Most of the crew was ferried off the burning rig by nearby boats or evacuated in lifeboats.
Jonathan Kersey, 33, was readying for a midnight shift when an alarm sounded at around 10 p.m., according to his father, Ted Kersey. The alarm signaled a pressure buildup in the rig, Ted Kersey said. Ten minutes later, a second alarm sounded - this time, to alert workers that they should abandon the rig. Jonathan Kersey escaped on a lifeboat, Ted Kersey said.
When he called his family Wednesday, father and son cried.
"The guy he would've relieved is likely no longer alive," Ted Kersey said. "(Jonathan) said he's never been more scared in his life."
The cause of the explosion is unknown. An official with Transocean, the Houston company that owns the rig, said Wednesday it appeared to be a "blowout," a pressure surge of oil or natural gas that thrusts up through the rig.
Blowouts are often caught and the main valve sealed to prevent explosions, said Adrian Rose, a Transocean vice president. "In this case, we don't know why we were unable to control it," he said.
The U.S. Minerals Management Service and Coast Guard are investigating.
The family of one of the missing crewmembers filed a lawsuit Thursday in the Eastern District Court of Louisiana against Transocean and global energy giant BP, which was leasing it. In the complaint, Natalie Roshto, wife of missing rig worker Shane Roshto, claims Transocean and BP violated numerous federal regulations and failed to provide a competent crew, among other allegations.