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Search Continues For Nine Missing After Boat Hits Pipeline

October 5, 1989

SABINE PASS, Texas (AP) _ More than 100 Coast Guard personnel were joined by park rangers Wednesday in the search for eight people missing after a fishing boat struck a gas pipeline and exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

Three people were killed and three others injured in the accident, which happened just before dark Tuesday. The 20-square-mile search was hampered by the suspected presence of hazardous chemicals.

″If they were presumed dead, we wouldn’t be searching,″ Coast Guard Lt. Scott LaRochelle said. ″The probability is high but there is still a possibility (of survivors). There’s always a hope.″

Two hazardous waste material experts boarded the boat later Wednesday but found no missing crew members or dangerous chemicals, officials said.

The search was suspended later Wednesday but was expected to continue Thrusday.

Mike Benson, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, said the agency was sending a team to investigate. The five-member team was expected to arrive in nearby Port Arthur late Wednesday.

A small fire continued to burn 18 hours after the 160-foot ″North Umberland″ apparently hit the 16-inch natural gas pipeline, triggering a spectacular blaze that sent flames hundreds of feet into the air, LaRochelle said.

The main fire burned itself out Wednesday morning after the pipeline was turned off.

Officials speculated that nets being trawled by the boat snagged the submerged pipeline and ruptured it, triggering the explosion.

As divers stood by to inspect the ruptured pipeline and burned boat, Coast Guard officials kept everyone 700 yards away from the wreck. They were concerned about the possible presence of anhydrous ammonia, a flammable coolant used on board fishing boats to preserve the catch.

The Coast Guard dive team of hazardous material experts was sent from Mobile, Ala., with equipment to test the air and water in the area.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department personnel, meanwhile, inspected 5 miles of beaches because prevailing currents would send survivors or victims toward the shore, the Coast Guard said.

″We’re hoping to find some concrete evidence that will give us some hope that some people are still alive,″ LaRochelle said.

Two victims and three survivors were spotted by private helicopters Tuesday night. A third was found just after noon Wednesday.

The three injured survivors remained hospitalized in nearby Beaumont.

Lori Kerr, a spokeswoman at Baptist Hospital, said names of the victims were not being released immediately.

She identified them as a 53-year-old man from Sulphur, La., with burns over 68 percent of his body. His condition was listed as critical.

The other two, both in good condition, were identified as a 28-year-oid from Cameron, La., suffering burns to his face and arms, and a 31-year-old from Lake Charles, La., suffering from shock.

The Cameron, La.-based ″pogy boat″ caught pogy or menhaden, fish used for poultry feed and fertilizer, said Barney White, spokesman for Houston-based Zapada Heynie Corp., which owns the boat.

Update hourly