April 21, 2010— -- An overnight explosion in the Gulf of Mexico rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the Louisiana coast, sending spectacular bursts of flame into the sky. The fires were still raging today.
Three workers were critically injured, said the Coast Guard late this afternoon. Eleven others were reported missing after the explosion.
Although Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, La., said a boat was found this morning with the missing crew members, Coast Guard Petty Officer Mike Blakney told ABC News they were unable to confirm that the missing workers were found. They have continued to search area surrounding the oil platform with helicopters and search boats.
Petty Officer Blakney also said 17 injured crew members had been evacuated by helicopter to area hospitals following the explosion.
Another 98 workers were evacuated aboard the rig's supply vessels and were headed to Port Fourchon, due south of New Orleans.
Transocean vice president Adrian Rose said today crews were performing routine work and that there was no sign of trouble before the explosion. The rig was under contract to BP PLC.
Officials said today that, so far, environmental impact from the accident seems to be minimal.
According to the Transocean website, the Deepwater Horizon is 396 feet long and 256 feet wide and is located in 5,000 feet of water. Last September, the Deepwater Horizon broke a world record when it burrowed down more than 35,000 feet at another BP site in the Gulf of Mexico.
The oil platform has tilted about 70 degrees, leading authorities to fear it may topple into the water. The Coast Guard told ABC News it does not have an estimate for when the raging fire might die down.
Oil platforms are actually semi-submersible rigs that are floated over drilling sites. They have pontoons and a column that submerge when flooded with sea water, but the structure does not touch the sea floor. The platforms sit low in the water and are moored with giant anchors.
Transocean is a behemoth in the drilling world. The company calls itself the "world's largest offshore drilling contractor" and says it has a fleet of over 140 drilling platforms.
Oil Rig Explosion in Gulf of Mexico
Oil platform workers typically stay on oil platforms for two weeks at a time, followed by two weeks on land. It can be a difficult business. Since 2001, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injureid and 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf of Mexico according to the federal Minerals Management Service.
A hotline for next of kin has been set up by the Coast Guard. The phone number is (832) 587-8554.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.