Bodies of 5 Gas Rig Workers Recovered at Blast Site

The bodies of five missing workers at the site of a gas drilling rig explosion Monday morning in southeast Oklahoma were recovered on Tuesday and their names were released.

Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris identified the five as: Josh Ray, 35, of Ft. Worth, Texas;  Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester,Oklahoma;  Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, Colorado;  Parker Waldridge of Crescent, Oklahoma; and Roger Cunningham, of Seminole, Oklahoma.

Reports indicate all 5 bodies were found in the rig’s “doghouse”, the office used to control the drilling rig. The 5 men were trapped when the rig collapsed in the explosion and resulting fire at the site near the Pittsburg county town of Quinton.

Sheriff Chris Morris told reporters the incident had turned to a recovery operation. Representatives of the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s office remained near the destructive scene where the explosion and result intense heat caused the rig to collapse.

 

“From what I was told, many of the survivors, there was a loud boom, they saw fire and they ran. Everybody was trying to survive. From what I understand, one guy was up high on the derrick and he grabbed a guideline and slid down, which would have been scary, but he survived,”  said the sheriff.

Five federal and state agencies are part of the investigation. The company has been ordered to clean up waste oil and water from the site and plug the well.

The sheriff said he had talked with families of the five workers.

“I think you can imagine they’re not doing well,” Morris said. “That’s not a good day — no law enforcement officer likes to give a notification like that.”

“Our hearts go out to the families involved,” he added.

Pittsburg County Emergency Management Executive Director Kevin Enloe said officials were “able to verify 100 percent accountability” for anyone on the site at the time of the explosion according to the McAlester News Democrat.

Seventeen other workers managed to escape the fiery blast that destroyed Patterson-UTI rig No. 219. The rig was operated by Red Mountain  Operating of Oklahoma City.

Tony Say, a Red Mountain Energy representative, said the staff of the family-owned company is “devastated” and this is its first incident of this magnitude.

He said the company will work with officials in the investigation of the explosion, but is focused on helping the families involved.

“We want to know what caused this horrible event, but today is not the time for those questions, at least not for me,” Say said.

Three of the workers identified — Ray, Smith, and Risk — were Patterson-UTI employees and Say said no Red Mountain employees were involved.

Say said the rig was about 13,500 feet into a scheduled drill of 17,00 feet. Officials said the crew had been drilling for 10 days on the site.

Sheriff Morris said witness accounts claim the employees were working on a landing pad at the time of the explosion.

“They were working on the doghouse or landing pad,” Morris said.

Andy Hendricks, Patterson-UTI President and CEO, said the company is focused on providing its employees with support and thanked the emergency responders.

He said the company had safety issues in the past, but the company showed improvement in safety through the last few years.

“We don’t want this to happen again for us or anybody in this industry,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks said Patterson has management and human resources staff on site to provide support.

Timeline

Crew members on the rig site at the time of the incident met with emergency responders later that morning and prayed with local pastors after the explosion.

Several agencies responded to the incident — including multiple fire departments and water tankers, the sheriff offices and emergency management offices from Pittsburg and Haskell counties, and the Quinton Police Department. The Pittsburg County Emergency Management Office said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Incident Management Team, OHP Aircraft, American Red Cross, three medical helicopters, four ground EMS units, Pittsburg County Mental Health Crisis Unit, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Crisis Management Team also responded.

Enloe and Morris said during a press conference Monday afternoon at Quinton High School’s Event Center that first responders got 17 employees off the natural gas site to safety.

One employee was treated for burns on the scene and initially refused transportation before being flown by helicopter to St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa.

Enloe said emergency workers searched for, but did not find the missing people as of Monday evening, adding the search did not get within 100 feet of the site due to heat from the fire.

He said the explosion also started grass fires that are being contained, but said the rig was nearly engulfed in flames.

“Pretty much everything that is on location was on fire,” Enloe said.

Secondary explosions in the area caused Enloe and crew to back off the site.

“There’s been several explosions since the guys have been on the scene fighting the fire,” Enloe said. “That’s why we pulled everyone back out, because we’re still continuing to have secondary explosions.”

Explosion last year

The incident occurred about three miles from another explosion that happened last year on a site owned by Trinity Operating LLC, just west of Quinton.

A primary explosion on one well head led to fires on three wells in last year’s well incident, but Enloe said the two events had different circumstances.

“This one was an actual active drilling rig that was drilling for gas,” Enloe said. “The other one was production well where they were doing some work on a well and it caught on fire.”

Enloe said the Patterson site recently started drilling and experts are working to shut off the well after the blowout preventer — designed to automatically shut down a well — became inoperable due to the explosion.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.

“I do not know a cause at this time,” Enloe said.

“If there was something that went wrong, what was it? And if there was something we could prevent in the future, that’s great. Sometimes it’s a freak accident,” Congressman Markwayne Mullin said.

(our thanks to the McAlester News Democrat)

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