Monday, December 27, 2010

Oil rig blast that trembled the world

The worst of the explosions gutted the Deepwater Horizon stem to stern. Crew members were cut down by shrapnel, hurled across rooms and buried under smoking ruins. Some were swallowed by fireballs that raced through the oil rig's shattered interior.

Dazed and tattered survivors, half-naked and dripping in highly combustible gas, crawled inch by inch in pitch darkness, willing themselves to the lifeboat deck. It was no better there.

That same explosion had catch fire a firestorm that enveloped the rig's derrick. Searing heat baked the lifeboat deck. Crew members, certain they were about to be cooked alive, scrambled into enclosed lifeboats for shelter, only to find them like smoke-filled ovens.

Men admired for their hardiness wept. Several said their prayers and jumped into the oily seas 60 feet below. An besieged young crew member, Andrea Fleytas, finally screamed what so many were thinking: "We're going to die!"

Nearly 400 feet long, the Horizon had alarming and redundant defences against even the worst blowout. It was equipped to divert surging oil and gas safely away from the rig. It had devices to quickly seal off a well blowout or to break gratis from it.

On paper, experts and investigators agree, the Deepwater Horizon should have weathered this blowout.

They were also frozen by the sheer difficulty of the Horizon's defences, and by the policies that explained when they were to be deployed. One emergency system alone was controlled by 30 buttons.

In the end, though, many lives were saved by simple acts of bravery, the interviews and records show. All over the rig, in the most hellish of circumstances, men and women helped one another find a way to live.