Deepwater Horizon Survivors: 'People Were Jumping Off the Side'

As survivors express anger, feds express new doubts about oil rig safety gear.

May 7, 2010 — -- As federal regulators begin to express doubts about the safety equipment designed to stop blowouts on the nation's thousands of offshore oil rigs, survivors of the Deepwater Horizon disaster are coming forward to express their anger at what they say were the failures that led to the explosion and the deaths of 11 of their fellow roustabouts and roughnecks.

Many of the men had worked together on the Deepwater Horizon since it first arrived on station off the Louisiana coast eight years ago, including crane operator Micah Sandell and Dewayne Martinez, who supervised the roustabouts.

"It's been a good rig, been a lot of good people," Martinez told ABC News.

They worked 21 days on, 21 days off, in grueling 12-hour shifts night and day, sending more than a mile's worth of pipe to the oil beds below.

It was a close-knit group that even made their own rap video about safety, and keeping their hands clear and safe from injury on deck. "An incident-free workplace, all the time, everywhere," said the lyrics. "A roustabout landing lifts, keep them clear. A roughneck trippin' on pipe, keep them clear."

Underwater, the men's safety relied on a massive device called a blowout preventer to send an alarm and cut off potentially dangerous gas or oil discharges.

Aboard the Deepwater Horizon, said Micah Sandell, "They'd always tell us that we have safety devices and warnings and they got ways of shutting it in, and it don't seem like they had nothing."

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that after the Deepwater Horizon explosion the federal agency that regulates oil wells, the Minerals Management Service, is no longer comfortable with the assumption that blowout preventers are reliable. In fact, as ABC News has reported, documents show that rig operators and government regulators have long known that blowout preventers, BOPS, had a repeated record of failure.

"And now sadly this one has horribly not worked, and here we are, suffering the consequences," said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has followed offshore drilling issues for years.

The explosion on the rig came without warning, the survivors say. There was no alarm that would have allowed the men on the deck floor to get to safety.

"It was people screaming and hollering," said Micah Sandell. "It was people jumping off the side that seen how hectic it was and they just jumped."

"Everybody was scared to death," said Dewayne Martinez. "It was chaos. Nothing went as planned, like it was supposed to."

Martinez and Sandell made it to a lifeboat, and then watched their friends still aboard the rig die.Said Martinez, "We knew where the guys were. We knew they were burning. We knew they weren't going to make it off there.

"I'm sorry I couldn't have done more," said Sandell. "The fire was too hot. There was too much fire. You couldn't get over there. And I just want to tell them I'm sorry. I'm praying for them."

The two survivors and others are now suing Transocean and BP over the failure of the blowout preventers. The companies say not enough is known yet about the incidents and its cause to answer the allegations.

Cameron, a major manufacturer of blowout preventers and the provider of the equipment used by the Deepwater Horizon, did not respond to requests for comment.

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