Port O'Connor, TX (off shore) Oil Rig Explosion, Aug 1980



Port O'Connor, Texas (AP) -- Flames shot 100 feet into the air from a burning gas well Saturday, hampering a search for three people missing after the offshore rig exploded, killing two workers and injuring seven, the Coast Guard said.
High flames and intense heat around the rig, about 18 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, hindered the search for the missing men by helicopters and Coast Guard vessels, officials said.
"There is gas burning on the water and the platform and the wellhead, which is broken about halfway up," said Coast Guard Lt. Steve Sparks in Corpus Christi.
The cause of the explosion is still unclear, but Sparks said 28 men were evacuated from the rig after it "experienced serious pressure buildups," about midnight.
"They must have drilled into an area of extreme pressure and their equipment just couldn't handle it," Sparks said.
Ocean Drilling and Exploration Co. of New Orleans, which owns the rig, was drilling the wildcat well for Cities Service, an ODECO spokesman said.
Killed were WILLIAM BLANCO, a rig mechanic, 55, of Daphne, Ala., and PARVIN N. BAILEY, a Cities Service drilling foreman, 42, Deridder, La.
Missing are LONNIE BESSONETTE, 46, Brookhaven, Miss., GARY SNELLING, 32, Lafayette, La., and SAM SMITH, JR., 23, Prentiss, Miss.
Kent Young, spokesman for the Tulsa-based Cities Service Co., said eleven men were left on the rig to "contend with the pressure buildup and try to get things under control" when the explosion occurred.
He added that Cities Service employees flew over the blazing rig to "inspect the damage and determine our next step."
"It will be our responsibility, as far as putting the fire out," Young said. "At the moment we don't have anything to hang our hands on -- we'll just have to wait until our helicopters return and then decide the next move."
Cities Service employees and Coast Guard officials will try to "cool the rig down" before putting the fire out to avoid another explosion because of the white hot metal, Young said.
Sparks said the explosion was reported about 6:20 a.m. and that rescue vessels from here and Port Aransas, as well as a rescue helicopter from Corpus Christi, were dispatched immediately.
LESTER WIESE, 39, Arlington, Texas, a crewman on a rescue boat, broke both arms during the evacuation, said Warren True of John Sealy Hospital in Galveston.
CLARENCE BOURNE, 26, Prentiss, Miss., had burns over 25 percent of his body, and ARTHUR SIMS, 36, with burns over 35 percent of his body. Both were listed in poor condition in the intensive care unit of John Sealy.
CLARENCE BONE, 22, Victoria, Texas, was admitted in fair condition for treatment of multiple trauma, True said.
OTIS ROY, 46, Wisner, Ala., and JOE HOWARD HUNT, 59, Galveston, were treated and released.
Hospitalized at Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi were JOE POPE, 41, Columbia, Miss., listed in fair condition with burns, and WILSON VOWELL, 27, described as critically burned.
Five ODECO employees were killed earlier this month when a helicopter crashed while evacuating rig workers as Hurricane Allen approached. The pilot and six service employees also were killed in the crash off the Louisiana coast.

The Paris News Texas 1980-08-31