Two Missing in Gulf Oil Rig Blast

PHOTO: This aerial photograph shows damage from an explosion and fire on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La., Nov. 16, 2012.
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Ships and helicopters are searching for two oil rig workers who disappeared when an explosion rocked a Gulf of Mexico oil rig off the coast of Louisiana and set it on fire, Coast Guard officials said.

Eleven other crew members were flown to hospitals, and four of them are listed in critical condition.

There were no confirmed deaths as of the early evening.

Earlier reports by the Coast Guard that as many as 15 people were unaccounted for were resolved as the workers were located.

Among the injured were four who were airlifted for medical treatment to the West Jefferson Medical Center, where they were in critical condition after suffering serious burns. All four were intubated and were to be evacuated to Baton Rouge Burn Center when they were stabilized, according to West Jefferson spokesman Taslin Alfonzo.

Three helicopters and two rescue boats were scouring the water looking for the missing crew members, according to Ed Cubanski, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard response.

The Coast Guard said that a Black Elk Energy Co. oil and natural gas platform caught fire after workers using a torch cut a line that had 28 gallons of oil in it, causing an explosion.

Black Elk's CEO, John Hoffman, said that the wrong tool was used in cutting the line. Contract workers should have used a saw instead of a torch, which caught vapors and caused the blast. The workers were employees of Grand Isle Shipyard, not Black Elk, he said. All of the individuals were men.

The rig was offline for maintenance and was scheduled to go back online for production later this month.

Because the rig was not actively producing oil or gas, there appeared to be little threat of a spill, according to the Coast Guard.

There were 22 people on board at the time of the explosion, the Coast Guard said.

An oil sheen a half mile long and 200 yards wide has spread over the water surrounding the platform, which sits in 56 feet of water. The platform was shut down for the work at the time of the accident, Cubanski said.

The platform was located about 20 nautical miles southeast of Grand Isle, La., when the explosion happened, Vega said.

The explosion and fire came the day after BP agreed to a more-than-$4-billion settlement for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the gulf, triggering the worst offshore oil spill in the country's history.

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