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Two Offshore Rigs Catch Fire; 10 Workers Injured, Seven Missing

March 20, 1989

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ An offshore oil drilling platform burned early today after explosions on it and an adjacent rig injured at least 10 crewmen and left seven missing, the Coast Guard said.

A helicopter and more than a dozen boats searched the Gulf of Mexico for the missing men. About 30 people were rescued from the burning rigs and surrounding water, according to the Coast Guard and the Atlantic Richfield Co.

Flames on the second rig, connected to the burning one by a catwalk, were extinguished a few hours after they started Sunday evening, said Coast Guard Chief Mike Robling.

The rigs were in an area just off the southeast tip of Louisiana and near the mouth of the Mississippi River, about 70 miles from New Orleans, known as the ARCO South Pass Block 60, said company spokesman Earl Sims in Dallas.

Five of the missing men work for Atlantic Richfield, which operated the rigs, and two are contractors, said Sims.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Bob Morehead said an oil slick two miles long and about 100 yards wide extended from the rigs. He said at least four oil crew boats were reportedly attempting to extinguish the blaze.

Sims said determining exactly how many people were on the rigs at the time of the fires would be difficult because there are about 10 rigs within several miles of each other in the area and workers sometimes move from rig to rig during an assignment.

″It would be like trying to tell how many people are in a building at one time,″ he said.

The cause of the explosions has not been determined but will be investigated by the Marine Safety Office, the Coast Guard said.

″I just don’t know of any specific operations at the time of the explosion that would have caused this,″ Sims said. ″The damage is extensive.″

Ten of the injured were taken to West Jefferson Hospital in Marrero, a New Orleans suburb. Eight of them were burned, including two who were in critical condition; and the other two suffered multiple injuries, said spokeswoman Beth Dutcher.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Bob Morehead said 13 injuries were confirmed but he did not know where the other three men were taken for treatment. Sims said he knew of only 10 injured crewmen, the ones at West Jefferson Hospital.

Cmdr. Gerry Donohoe, pilot of one of the helicopters which took some of the injured to the hospital, said when he left the area flames were still shooting high from one rig.

″It looked like the entire rig would be down to the waterline by tomorrow,″ he said Sunday.

″One crewboat was shooting water, trying to put the fire out, but it probably won’t help much,″ he said. ″It couldn’t get very close.″

He said he landed on one of the other oil platforms in the immediate area, where crewboats were taking the injured and others, including some who apparently jumped into the water.

Update hourly