Photograph of the Deepwater Horizon burning by the US Coast Guard.

Back when I was writing my book “A Catalogue of Disasters” which features the Deepwater Horizon blowout, I was trawling through the witness statements trying to find out who had actually instructed the guys on the rig to clean the mud pits when the the well was not, so to speak, in the bag.

One of the ways of finding out if the well is under control or not is whether precisely the same amount of liquid that is being pumped down the well is being returned. If less than the precise amount is being returned then some is being lost to the formation, or if more is being returned then the well is flowing. Hence to have been unable to monitor the  returns from the well was a serious handicap.

It was possible from the witness statements to identify the moments on April 20 2010 when BP and Transocean had discussed things and possibly disagreed on what should be done and in what way, but there was no definitive statement about cleaning the pits. However in the midst of it all was the testimony of Senior Toolpusher, Miles Ezell. It brings home to those of us, who have become immersed in the cold presentation of information, that human beings were involved, and if we are not careful, the only memorial to the eleven men who lost their lives will be endless arguments between lawyers. I read this and decided that it was time to stop and to call it a day. We take up the story after Miles had attended a meeting with Transocean and BP executives who, ironically, were present on the rig to make a safety award. (There is some rig speak in this, with which you might not be familiar, but it does not affect the narrative).

I did attend the meeting with the dignitaries. That lasted till shortly after 9:00 or right around 9:00. From there I went to the galley and got something to drink. And I spoke to someone. I can't even remember who it was in the galley now, but I made my way back down to my office and, when I got to the office, I looked at my watch. Of course everybody has different times pieces, but it was 9:20 by my watch. I called the rig floor and I talked to Jason Anderson. And I said "Well, how did your negative test go?" And he said "It went good." He said "We bled it off. We watched it for 30 minutes and we had no flow." And I said "What about your displacement? How's it going?" He said "It's going fine." He said "It won't be much longer and we ought to have our spacer back." I said "Okay." I said "Do you need any help from me?" And he told me "No, man." Just like he told me before he said "I've got this." He said "Go to bed. I've got it." He was that confident that everything was fine. I said "Okay."  

So, I went to my cabin, which is a short distance, probably five feet, away from the toolpusher's office. I went in there and closed the door and prepared for bed and I think I -- yeah, I called my wife and talked to her for a few minutes. And -- it wasn't long, fifteen or twenty minutes, and I had laid there and I turned my overhead light off in the bunk and I was still watching a little TV. And my room phone rang. Well, I hit my little alarm clock light and, according to that alarm clock, it was ten minutes till 10:00. And the person at the other end of the line there was the assistant driller, Steve Curtis. Steve opened up by saying "We have a situation." He said "The well is blown out." He said "We have mud going to the crown." And I said "Well --" I was just horrified. I said "Do y'all have it shut in?" He said "Jason is shutting it in now." And he said "Randy, we need your help." And I'll never forget that. And I said "Steve, I'll be -- I'll be right there."  

So, it took only minutes for me to put my coveralls on, they were hanging on the hook. I put my socks on. My boots and my hard hat were right across that hall I was telling  you in the toolpusher's office. So, I opened  my door and I remember a couple of people standing in the hallway, but I kind of had  tunnel vision. I looked straight ahead and I don't -- I didn't even remember who those people were. And about the time I -- I made it to the doorway of the toolpusher's office was when a tremendous explosion occurred. It blew me probably twenty feet against a bulkhead, against the wall in that office. And I remember then that the lights went out, power went out. I could hear everything deathly calm. My next recollection was that I had a lot of debris on top of me. I tried two different times to get up, but whatever it was it was a substantial weight. The third time it was something like adrenalin had kicked in and I told myself 'either you get up or you're going to lay here and die’. So, my right leg was hung on something, I don't know what still. But I pulled it as hard as I could and it came free. I attempted to stand up. That was the wrong thing to do because I immediately stuck my head into smoke. And with the training that we've all had on the rig I knew to stay low. So, I felt -- I dropped back down. I got on my hands and knees and for a few moments I was totally disoriented. I mean I had lost orientation on which way the doorway was. And I remember just sitting there and just trying to think 'Which way is it?' 

Then I felt something and it felt like air. And I said to myself 'Well, that's got to be the hallway. So, that's the direction I need to go. That leads out.' So, I had to crawl very slowly because that end of the living quarters was pretty well demolished. Debris everywhere. But I made it to the doorway and what I thought was air was actually methane and I could actually feel like droplets. It was moist on the side of my face. I continued to -- to crawl down the hallway slowly and I put my hand on a body and it was Wyman Wheeler. I mean I didn't -- I didn't know it at the time because there was no light, I couldn't see. The next thing I recollect is I saw like a beam of light like a flashlight bouncing. And I guess it was because this individual was coming down the hallway and it had all the debris hanging from different places, so the light was going up and down as he ducked and went through different things. He came around the corner there and I saw that to be our electrical supervisor, Stan Carden. Along about that time Jimmy Harrell, the OIM, came out of his room. He had managed to find a pair of coveralls and put those on. He told me he was in the shower when the explosion happened.  And he was gritting his eyes real hard and he said he couldn't hardly see. And he said ‘I think I've got something in my eyes.’ And I looked down and he didn't have any shoes either. And I said ‘Jimmy, I've got Wyman down right here.’ And he said ‘Yeah, okay. I got to see if I can find me some shoes.’  

So, Stan and I were in the process of trying to remove some of the debris off of Wyman. And at that time or along about that time another flashlight entered and that was Chad Murray.  And as soon as he got to where we could see him we asked him to go to the bow and get a stretcher. So, we continued to remove this debris off of Wyman. I helped him up and I was -- in my mind I was going to try to help walk him out thinking that that might be quicker to walk him out. Well, he made a couple of steps with his arm around my shoulder and he was in pain and he said ‘Set me down. Set me down.’ So, we set him back down and he said ‘Y'all go on. Save yourself.’ And I said ‘no, we're not going to leave you. We're not going to leave you in here.’ And along about that time I heard another voice saying ‘God help me. Somebody please help me.’ And I looked to where our maintenance office had been and all I could see was feet, a pair of feet sticking out from underneath a bunch of wreckage and debris. We -- we worked to get that off of this individual. We didn't know exactly who it was, but, when we got the debris off of this person, we saw that it was Buddy Trahan, who was one of the visiting Transocean dignitaries that came out for that trip. Looking at him we saw that the extent of his injuries were greater than that of Wyman's. So, naturally he got the first stretcher. So, we loaded him on the stretcher and it took three of us because we had to remove debris. It was hanging from the ceiling and the walls was jutted out, the floor was jutted up. I mean it was just total chaos in that area of the living quarters. But when we got him loaded on the stretcher Stan and Chad conveyed him all the way out of the front of the rig, the bow of the rig to the lifeboat station.  

I stayed right there with Wyman Wheeler because I told him I wasn't going to leave him and I didn't. And it seemed like an eternity, but it was only a couple of minutes they came back with the second stretcher. We were able to get Wyman on that stretcher and we took him to the bow of the rig. When we got outside of the living quarters the first thing I observed is both of the main lifeboats had already been deployed and they left. I also looked to my left and I saw Captain Kurt and a few of his marine crew starting to deploy a liferaft. And we continued down the walkway till we got to that liferaft and we set the stretcher down. And after several minutes we had everything deployed and the chief mate, David Young, and myself got in the life raft and we were able to catch the head part of the stretcher and assist getting Wyman into the life raft, which I don't know if any of y'all ever been in a liferaft, but it's hard to keep your balance and especially if you've got any type of weight. And I think we actually fell trying to, you know, get him into the life raft. But the main thing is Wyman was there. You know, he didn't get left behind.  

From that point we were lowered down and I believe that was by Captain Kurt, to the best of my recollection. We made it to the water. I remember intense heat. I remember fuel or oil or some type of hydrocarbon burning on the water extremely close to where our life raft was. And the painter was still attached to the rig. Well, we didn't have a whole lot of light. We were looking through the provisions trying to find a knife. I was pulling tension on the painter thinking by chance maybe it might part. When it did part. Okay, unbeknown to me at that exact moment it didn't part. It was cut. The captain of our rig was able to get a knife and cut the painter. And from that point I remember being thrown a rope. I think it was from the fast rescue craft from the DAMON BANKSTON. And from there they were able to tow us to the BANKSTON and safely away from the rig. 

We can still only guess who issued the instruction to prepare for the next well, but Miles Ezell’s testimony brings home to us what a terrible event this was. Both Jason Anderson and Steve Curtis and nine others died in the disaster. So one of the many lessons to be learnt may be that you have to get the drill crew off the Drill Floor once there’s nothing more they can do there. There are, after all, other BOP control panels.

 
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