The Deep Water Horizon — Don’t Spill Coffee. Oil, is OK!
“Oh the beauty of the moon at sea” thought Alwin Landry as he filled his log for the day. At 41, he was the Captain of Supply ship ‘Damon B. Bankston’. In the absence of wind, the night sea often settles down into a mirror-like reflective, smooth surface. As he looked out of the window on the wheelhouse of his boat, he watched the beautiful half-moon, reflected perfectly, in the untroubled waters of the Gulf of Mexico. His Chief Mate, Paul Erickson, was keeping watch. Twin hoops in his left ear reflected dramatically in the moonlight making Alwin smile!
The Bankston was a stout, blue-hulled supply ship, with a 150-foot flatbed cargo deck in the back. It was at that time berthed port to port with the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig the size of a football field. The Bankston’s mission was to ferry supplies to and from the shore, serving at the Horizon’s beck and call.
As Alwin got busy with the many things that a Captain must do on a Ship, Paul’s mind was going over the recent events. At this hour, on the night of April 20, neither vessel should have been here. The Horizon had been due at its next drilling site a month earlier. The Bankston, in turn, was supposed to have been on its way to Port Fourchon, for a midnight crew change. But when they were asked to take on 4,500 gallons of used drilling mud, they had had to postpone their departure.
The crew ran a heavy hose from the rig to the Bankston’s storage tanks, and the flow commenced in the early afternoon. Before they were done, though, the Horizon suspended the transfer. They were told to stand by. There was no need to disconnect the hose, they were told.
All was calm — until the moment Hell descended on Earth.
Paul saw it first.
It was as if a whale had just surfaced and sprouted next to the ship… A cascade of liquid was pouring down from the rig in an amazingly large quantity, pelting the Bankston like black rain.
Alwin’s first thought was that the hose had ruptured. “Cleaning up this mess will take days,” he thought with annoyance writ on his face as he rushed to close the two steel hatches on the bridge. Then he looked up … and almost froze at what he saw!
Twenty stories above, on the main deck of Horizon, it was as if a volcano had erupted. A mixture of Seawater and Mud spewed upwards powered by a violent surge of natural gas like a giant fountain, throwing chunks of slush and slime on the boat and the sea all around. Suddenly the gentle, beautiful moon-lit night was neither gentle, nor beautiful anymore!
“What’s going on?” Alwin asked on Radio
“We’re having a little trouble with the well right now.” He could not recognize the voice, but after over 20 years of communicating over the Radio with unknown voices and unseen faces, he had learnt to read the expressions in a voice; and he did not like what he read here. The voice was laced with tension and worry. Obviously, they had more than just “a little trouble” out there. And then he heard something that propelled him into action.
“Back-off to 500 meters!”
He recognized the voice of Horizons Captain Curt Kutcha. More than the words, it was the urgency, almost panic, in the voice that got him going.
But it was easier said than done.
“We have a hose on board,” he reminded Curt.
It was a big hose, four inches in diameter — the coupling alone weighed 150 pounds. Disengaging usually involved a crane.
“Uh …” Curt was trying to think as fast as Alwin, but before either could come up with an action plan, the first explosion hit.
Alwin saw a green flash emanating from the main deck of the rig, behind the derrick, followed by a percussive jolt, a massive fireball, and a hailstorm of debris. It knocked out all the lights, plunging the rig into darkness.
Anthony Gervasio, the Bankston’s engineer, was in the engine room when he heard the explosion. He rushed upstairs to investigate and surfaced from the bowels of the ship to see the mud. He then saw the Horizon go dark.
“Oh…” he said to himself, and before he could think any further, the second explosion hit; much bigger than the first.
“Disconnect the hose!” Shouted Alwin.
Louis Langlois was a big man. At 340 lbs, he was almost a giant and a very good man to have on your side during a crisis like this. Alwain was pleased to see him make a dash for the hose. He was even more pleased to see Anthony dash after him to help. Those were two of the best men on board his ship. The situation would have been comic had it not been for the danger. Anthony was a very small man, at just 160 lbs, he looked a child in the presence of Louis, but Alwin had no time to think of these contrasts. His mind was working furiously. He knew that they were in mortal danger and if he could not pull the ship away in time, they would all burn to death!
Louis and Anthony dashed the length of the cargo deck through a maze of crates and spools, slipping and sliding on an inch of mud. Anthony, an all-state defensive back during his high school football days in Rhode Island, got there first; he slapped a wrench on the joint and pulled.
Alwin was still in the wheelhouse. He had just given the order to disconnect the hose, but now he wasn’t sure he could wait. Forty feet from where he stood, the rig was in full flame. Barrels filled with volatile compounds were rocketing into the sky like missiles. He considered gunning the throttle and going — just ripping the hose. He knew he had enough horsepower. But not until he heard from his guys.
“I already sent them out there,” he was thinking. “If I move now, they will get pinched in the hose.” He thought, his hands impatiently cradling the throttles.
Then he saw them. Anthony and Louis, at the back of the boat, arms raised, thumbs up, and he saw the hose in the water. He called upon all his 20 odd years of experience at sea and maneuvered the engine, with Paul working the wheel furiously, expertly. Like the well trained and experienced team that they were, they pulled the ship back and away from the burning rig, finally putting some distance between the inferno and themselves.
With the fire growing and the Bankston’s mercury-vapor lamps full on, the scene was strangely bright, surreal, all lit up like a movie set.
He watched in horror and disbelief as a flash of reflective material cut through his line of sight.
“That can’t be!” he told himself. Quickly he exchanged a glance with Paul, and he knew from the horror reflected on the younger man’s face that he had not imagined it. People were jumping, they both realized. Horizon crew members were abandoning ship — leaping from the main deck, plummeting 70 feet into the sea! At 10:04 p.m., Alwin sent an urgent e-mail to the BP control room in Houston.
“Horizon is on FIRE. Well Blowout. Send out help!”
North and South America, UK, Europe and Australia: https://www.createspace.com/4583791.
All of Asia (including India, Malaysia and China), Middle East and Africa: http://pothi.com/pothi/book/captain-samir-sam-kohli-waiting-happen.
If you prefer to read on Kindle, computer or tablet device, or order from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HGRNN1I
(You don’t need to buy a Kindle device. Just download the free “Kindle reading App” from Amazon e-store and you will be able to read on any computer, tablet or even a mobile phone.)