April 22, 2010— -- A burning oil rig sank into 5,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico today while the search by air for 11 workers still missing continued.
The U.S. Coast Guard, which is leading the search, said it will now begin to assess the pollution the disaster has caused. About 300,000 gallons of crude oil have been released into the Gulf.
Nearly 100 survivors of Tuesday's explosion -- which sent several workers diving off the 75-foot platform -- arrived in a New Orleans port early this morning, Kerver said. Seventeen others were taken to area hospitals, some with critical injuries.
The survivors told ABC News today it was very good luck that a supply ship, the Damon Bankston, was tethered to the rig when the explosion occurred. Survivors scrambled onboard following the explosion. The Bankston's crew then cut the lines and moved a few hundred yards from the rig, picking up the remaining survivors they found in lifeboats. Medics were then able to quickly tend to the seriously injured.
Overnight two Coast Guard cutters continued the search for the 11 missing, eerily illuminated by the massive fireball on the platform that has yet to be extinguished. Already nearly 2,000 square miles have been scoured, the Coast Guard said. This afternoon, the Coast Guard said the odds of survival at sea for the missing men are now slim and that the search for survivors will be called off before dawn on Friday.
Carolyn Kemp of Monterey, La., said Thursday that her grandson, Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27, was among the missing. She said he would have been on the drilling platform when it exploded.
"They're assuming all those men who were on the platform are dead," Kemp told the AP. "That's the last we've heard."
The family of Dewey Revette, a 48-year-old from southeast Mississippi, said he was also among the missing. He worked as a driller on the rig and had been with the company for 29 years.
"We're all just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring and hoping for good news. And praying about it," said Revette's 23-year-old daughter, Andrea Cochran.
"We have really good weather, which is fortunate in a search and rescue case," Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Sue Kerver told "Good Morning America." "Calm seas, calm winds, good visibility."
In the meantime, the Associated Press reports that a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of one of the missing men, Shane Roshto, of Amite County, Miss. The suit claims that the companies involved in running the oil platform were negligent.
Before the rig sank, firefighting vessels struggled to contain the fire on top of the rig as plumes of smoke reportedly reaching 10,000 feet in the air.
"The best way to describe it is a big mushroom cloud, almost like a bomb went off," Coast Guard petty officer Blair Doten said.
The Coast Guard was working with BP, with which the rig is under contract, to shut down the fire's fuel source: the rig's well that can produce 13,000 gallons of raw crude oil an hour.
Official: 'Blowout' Possible Cause of Explosion
The rig, known as Deepwater Horizon, was finishing work on a new well at the floor of the Gulf when it was rocked by an explosion late Tuesday night. The 115 survivors that have been accounted for said they scrambled from the burning rig -- some piling into lifeboats, others jumping, risking the more than 75-foot dive into the sea.
Owned by Transocean Ltd., the rig is about twice the size of a football field and can drill up to 30,000 feet deep, according to Transocean's website.
Transocean's vice president, Adrian Rose, told the Associated Press the explosion appeared to be a blowout, meaning natural gas or oil forced its way up a well pipe and damaged equipment.
The Coast Guard said it was "preparing in advance" for any effect the explosion could have on the environment in the area.
Meanwhile, an undersea robot is being used to try to plug the well as crews on the surface struggle to contain the oil spill that already stretches five miles on the surface of the Gulf.