Environmental news from California and beyond

« Previous Post | Greenspace Home | Next Post »

Gulf oil spill: Rig captain hesitated before making key safety decisions

August 23, 2010 |  7:39 pm

Testimony by a senior Transocean official at a hearing to determine the cause of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill indicated that the rig's captain hesitated before making critical safety decisions in the moments after the explosion.

Daun Winslow, Transocean performance division manager, was touring the rig on the day of the explosion and was going to get a half-cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette on the rig when he heard the explosion.

Winslow saw the derrick ablaze and ran to the bridge. Winslow, who was not included in the rig's chain of command, saw Capt. Curt Kuchta initially waving him back to the accommodation area. He assumed that meant Kuchta thought the accommodation area was a safer place to be, implying Kuchta was not aware of the massive scale of damage to the rig.

"I ran up the stairs ... to where the captain was and told him the accommodation area appears to be severely damaged," Winslow said. "I told him, 'You got to put people in the lifeboats.'"

Winslow heard someone saying a crewman was preparing to jump overboard, and he ran back to coax him back and head to the lifeboats. Winslow went back to the bridge, where Kuchta gave him a report.

"We got no power. We got no water, no emergency generators. We've got nothing," Winslow recalled Kuchta saying. "Can we, or should we ... disconnect" from the well? Winslow recalled Kuchta asking.

"I said, 'If you haven't disconnected by now, please do,'" Winslow said. Winslow said he heard Chris Pleasant, a subsea engineer, saying, "I've already done that. There's nothing here," meaning it didn't work.

At the same time, Winslow said he heard offshore installation manager Jimmy Harrell saying, "Yeah, we must disconnect." Harrell suffered injuries in the explosion that made it hard for him to hear and see.

"There's nothing else we can do," Winslow recalled saying.

Winslow and the rig's top commanders then fled to the lifeboats.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II in Houston