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Rescue Crew from Burning Ship; Put Fire Our

December 11, 1986

DESTIN, Fla. (AP) _ Jet fighter pilots spotted smoke pouring from a burning ship in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, and helicopter crews plucked 19 crew members from lifeboats before rescuers put out the fires, officials said.

No serious injuries were reported among the 34-member crew of the 300-foot siesmographic research vessel Geco Alpha, and those evacuated were being returned to the ship after Coast Guard crews extinguished the fires in the engine room and on deck, said Coast Guard spokesman Chuck Kalnbach.

Three crew members remained with the Norwegian vessel throughout and five crew members returned to the ship from lifeboats after the fires were put out, said Kalnbach. The Coast Guard helped seven crew members leave the ship.

The ship is owned by the Norwegian Geophysical Company, with a Liberian registry and a Panamanian flag, the Coast Guard said. Officials didn’t know immediately whether the ship could make it to port on its own.

″It seems that there is little damage,″ Hans Hansen, the company’s vice president for marine operations, said from Houston. He said the ship, a converted fishing trawler built in 1977, was in the Gulf for oil, gas and other exploration but declined to give further details.

The crews of four F-15 fighter jets returning to Eglin Air Force Base from a training mission saw a plume of smoke, said Lt. Col. Sam Giamo. One of the jets dipped down to investigate and spotted the burning ship and its crew members donning lifevests, then radioed to Eglin for rescue helicopters, said Giamo.

The Coast Guard had received a distress call shortly before, at 10:33 a.m. CST, Kalnbach said.

A helicopter from Tyndall Air Force Base hoisted 15 crew members from lifeboats and another chopper from Eglin picked up four more and zipped them back to the Eglin base hospital.

Earlier Wednesday, a tugboat pulling a wheat-laden barge caught fire after an explosion in the engine room 46 miles southwest of Key West, Fla., the Coast Guard in Miami said. One of eight crew members from the tug was hospitalized in the critical burn care unit of Tampa General Hospital and another crew member was being treated for shock, Coast Guard spokesman Tom Gillespie said.

In another unrelated incident, a 600-foot phosphate freighter was aground off the westernmost Florida Keys, the Coast Guard said. Information was sketchy about the Alisa, stuck in shallow water 15 miles east of the Dry Tortugas, which are about 70 miles west of Key West.

Gillespie said the Coast Guard was monitoring the situation, but wasn’t taking a direct hand in freeing the freighter unless the weather worsened.

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