HOUSTON – A Houston-based company has expanded its efforts in the search for a missing worker from Friday’s oil platform fire, according to a press release from Black Elk Energy.
Black Elk Energy owns the oil platform where a fire broke out and left one worker dead, one missing, four seriously burned and seven others injured.
The company said that it has hired two more commercial dive boats and is coordinating with the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Department in Louisiana. They have also reached out to all helicopter companies that fly in the area to help with the visual search, the release stated.
Also, on Monday, the company plans on using a search and rescue dog to inspect the impacted area and the platform, the release stated.
“The Coast Guard deserves tremendous credit for the extraordinary dedication and professionalism their search team demonstrated in response to the incident at our Gulf of Mexico facility,” the company said in the statement released late Sunday.
While Black Elk said that they are focused on the victims and their families, an official investigation has begun in what caused the fire.
“An official investigation has begun to examine the facts surrounding this incident, and we will continue to cooperate with all authorities as this process develops,” the company said.
One of the missing workers from Friday's oil platform fire was confirmed dead after his body was discovered on Saturday afternoon, according to the CEO of Black Elk Energy.
John Hoffman, CEO of Black Elk, said in an email that at 5:25 p.m., a contracted dive vessel had found the body.
The body was found underneath the platform and was moved to the shore by the U.S. Coast Guard late Saturday.
The USCG called off their search late Saturday after they had searched up to 1,400 square miles looking for the two missing workers.
Earlier in the day, an official with Baton Rouge General's Regional Burn Center said at a press conference that two workers remained in critical condition and two others were in serious but stable condition after sustaining serious burns from the fire on the oil platform.
Dr. Jeffrey Littleton, with Baton Rouge General Hospital Burn Center, said Saturday that they were focusing on, “stabilization of the patients airways, replacing fluids that have been lost to the burn injuries and local wound care with antibacterial dressing to combat potential infection."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families," Hoffman said Saturday evening.
Until Saturday afternoon's recovery, little progress was made in regards to the search for the two missing workers.
On Friday, a spokesperson with West Jefferson Medical Center, where the injured were initially taken for treatment, said that the four workers had sustained second- and third-degree burns over a large portion of their bodies. They were moved to Baton Rouge General’s Regional Burn Center for specialized treatment Friday afternoon.
At Saturday’s press conference, a hospital official in Baton Rouge General said that the four workers were from the Philippines, which has made contacting their families difficult.
Hospital officials would not elaborate on the extent of the workers’ burn injuries, but said that the next 48-72 hours are critical to their survival.
A total of 11 workers were air-lifted to Louisiana to be treated for injuries. The remaining seven were released after being treated by paramedics near the shore of Grand Isle, La.
In an on-air interview with KHOU 11 News, Hoffman said at noon on Friday that two workers were dead and one was missing, but later recanted the statement. An official with the company said Friday afternoon that they would continue to search for the two missing workers and would not declare them dead.
The USCG said at a press conference at noon that 26 total workers were on the platform Friday morning.
Four left the platform prior to the accident and 11 more after the fire broke out, a spokesman with Coast Guard confirmed. He said nine more were later found and evacuated with two still missing. He could not confirm the two deaths.
At the time of the press conference, it was not clear whether or not if the two workers reported missing were in fact the same two that Hoffman had declared dead since he mentioned only one worker missing at the time.
Workers on the platform, which produces oil and natural gas, are contractors from a company in Louisiana and do not work for the company directly, Hoffman said.
At the time of the fire, the workers were cutting a 75-foot long pipe that was 3 inches in diameter and contained as much as 75 gallons of product, Hoffman said.
The process for cutting the pipe calls for a “cold-cutting device,” or a non-sparking tool, Hoffman said. However, he confirmed that a cutting torch was used instead, which ignited the vapors in the pipe.
The platform was not in production at the time of the fire and remains structurally sound, the USCG spokesman said.
The Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City, La. and the Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement will investigate the environmental impact of the accident, spokesman for the USCG said.
This is not the first accident that Black Elk Energy has dealt with in the past two years.
In August, a crane was lowering two workers in a basket when the equipment failed, according to federal records. The two workers fell into the Gulf, but were not seriously injured.
In February 2011, a small fire broke out on a platform owned by Black Elk Energy, records state. The fire was quickly put and a battery charger was blamed for the fire.
Also, in September 2011, Black Elk Energy paid a $307,000 fine. According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the company failed to do a leak test on a safety valve and it took them 117 days to fix it once a problem was discovered.
None of these incidents happened at the platform where Friday’s fire took place.
Check back for updates to this developing story.