HOUSTON – One of the missing workers from Friday's oil platform fire was confirmed dead after his body was recovered on Saturday afternoon, according to the CEO of Black Elk Energy.
John Hoffman, CEO of the Houston-based energy company, said in an email that at 5:25 p.m., a contracted dive vessel had recovered the body and that the search for the second missing worker was still ongoing.
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 owned by Black Elk Energy.
"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 U.S. Coast Guard 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.
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts told WWL-TV the platform is in shallow water located in West Delta Block 32 in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard said the location is about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La.
The Coast Guard activated a "command center" to investigate the incident, and two helicopter teams -- one from Mobile, Alabama and the other from New Orleans -- were called in to help with the search. Two small boat stations out of Grand Isle and Venice were also sent to the scene.
“Our focus at this very point is for the well being and the treatment for those injured, and those that were not injured in this to have crisis management counselors available to them,” Hoffman said.
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.
Hoffman said that right now they would focus on treating the workers and address what went wrong on Saturday.
“It’s the human element. We’re doing oil and gas, but at the end of the day, it’s families and taking care of those families,” Hoffman said in an interview Friday afternoon. “That’s my concern.”
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 Coast Guard said that there is a half-mile by 200-yard oil sheen from the platform. The platform was not in production at the time of the fire and remains structurally sound, the Coast Guard spokesman added.
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 Coast Guard 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.