U.S. rig witness recalls rain of mud, green flash

* For captain, first sign of trouble was rain of mud

* Green flash preceded explosion that rocked doomed rig

By Erwin Seba

KENNER, Louisiana, May 11 (BestGrowthStock) – For the captain of
the Damon B. Bankston, a ship anchored alongside the Deepwater
Horizon drilling rig when it exploded, the first sign of
trouble was a flood of mud that poured off the rig’s drill deck
like black rain.

In testimony on Tuesday before a federal government panel
investigating the explosion on the night of April 20 that
claimed 11 lives, Alwin Landry also recalled a green flash that
preceded the first explosion and a desperate effort to pull 115
survivors from the water.

It was a routine evening on the deep waters of the Gulf of
Mexico, about 42 miles (68 km) off the Louisiana coast. The
Damon Bankston was pumping heavy drilling mud from a three-mile
deep well drilled by the rig through a hose. Landry was on the
bridge catching up on paperwork.

Shortly after 9 p.m. CDT (0200 GMT), “my mate advised there
was mud coming off the rig. It looked like it was a black rain
coming down,” Landry said.

Swiss-based Transocean Ltd’s (RIGN.S: ) (RIG.N: ) Deepwater
Horizon rig, under contract with BP, exploded and caught fire
on April 20 while it was putting the finishing touches on a
well about a mile (1.6 km) beneath the ocean surface. It sank
two days later.

The accident has triggered a huge oil spill that is
threatening an environmental and economic disaster along the
U.S. Gulf Coast.

Drilling mud is poured down the drill pipe to control the
powerful pressures within the underground hydrocarbon reservoir
and prevent a “kick” of methane gas and oil from rushing up the
drillpipe. It was unusual for the mud to be pouring out the
well in an uncontrolled flood.

“I was advised they were having trouble with the well,”
Landry said, and workers on board advised him to disconnect the
hose and move his vessel away. Landry said he registered
concern in the rig worker’s voice.

A GREEN FLASH

Landry said he heard something else that concerned him: the
loud hiss of a high-pressure release of air and gas that lasted
for 30 seconds or more.

According to accounts from rig workers reviewed by Robert
Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor,
this was the sound of a surge of methane rushing up the drill
pipe which engulfed the rig’s deck in highly-flammable gas.

According to Landry, the explosion came at 9:53 p.m. (0253
GMT).

“I saw the green flash on the main deck of the Horizon to
the aft of the derrick.” About 10 minutes later, a distress
call went out from the rig’s radio — “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!
The rig’s on fire. Abandon ship,” Landry said.

The fire enveloped the rig as workers scrambled to reach
life boats and some plunged into the dark waters, he said.

The rig’s two lifeboats made it clear of the burning rig
but a smaller life raft was hung by a rope and couldn’t get
free as fire spread beneath the rig.

The Damon Bankston’s rescue boat pulled alongside the
hung-up life raft and passed its crew a knife, which they used
to hack themselves free, Landry said.

According to Landry, the rig’s captain, Curt Kuchta, said
his crew had slammed a “kill switch” on the drill deck meant to
activate an underwater blowout preventer that is designed as a
fail-safe method of shutting off the well.

“He said they pressed the kill switch,” Landry said. “They
didn’t know if it worked.”

At about 11:05 p.m. cdt (0405 GMT) the Coast Guard issued
its first alert. “Coast Guard has received a report of the …
Deepwater Horizon on fire,” according to the radio alert, read
by a Coast Guard official at the hearing. “All mariners are
requested to maintain a sharp lookout, assist if possible.”

Stock Trading
(Writing by Chris Baltimore; editing by David Storey)

U.S. rig witness recalls rain of mud, green flash