There is another good article in the Wall Street Journal which describes the chaos on the Deepwater Horizon during the evacuation, based on interviews with people who were on board at the time. It is worth reading in full, but I must take issue with a summary the WSJ has made:
An examination by The Wall Street Journal of what happened aboard the Deepwater Horizon just before and after the explosions suggests the rig was unprepared for the kind of disaster that struck and was overwhelmed when it occurred. The events on the bridge raise questions about whether the rig’s leaders were prepared for handling such a fast-moving emergency and for evacuating the rig—and, more broadly, whether the U.S. has sufficient safety rules for such complex drilling operations in very deep water.
Let’s hold on a minute, shall we? 126 people made it off the rig via the lifeboats, a liferaft, or jumping into the water. 11 people were killed, 10 of whom the article confirms were killed by the initial explosion (the fate of the eleventh is not mentioned). In other words, of those who could have made it off the rig alive, all but one did so and that one is very much open to question. On a rig that’s just had a huge blast rip through it and is now on fire, that’s pretty damned good going.
The chain of command broke down at times during the crisis, according to many crew members. They report that there was disarray on the bridge and pandemonium in the lifeboat area, where some people jumped overboard and others called for boats to be launched only partially filled.
Well, yes. There probably was pandemonium and a lack of cool heads on a rig which has exploded and is on fire with an out-of-control well underneath it. If I was in the lifeboat with 250ft flames shooting out of the well hole I’m not entirely convinced I wouldn’t be yelling for them to release the damned thing instead of – literally – hanging about waiting for others who might not come, selfishness be damned. That the lifeboat didn’t leave half empty is testament that some people running the evacuation process kept a cool head, and whoever they were they deserve the utmost praise.
I’m not sure what else is expected during a rig fire. Perhaps a couple of colonial British officers, calmly sipping gin and tonics:
“I say, old boy! That was an awfully loud bang, rattled the ice in my glass, it did. And now that blasted heat has it all melted, and you know how difficult it is to get ice out here in the Gulf of Mexico, eh what?!”
I hope before long the industry will thank those who ensured that 126 lives were saved, and I am slightly dismayed by how little positive coverage the evacuation received in the press. Twenty years ago a rig fire like that would have left few survivors.