Gulf oil spill: Rig captain thwarted emergency disconnect, witness says

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The captain of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig overruled advice to disconnect the rig from the well after an explosion erupted on the vessel, a supervisor for rig owner Transocean testified Friday.

[For the record at 12:47 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the disagreement occurred before the explosion. Pleasant’s testimony was that it came after the explosion.]


The supervisor, Christoper Pleasant, was in charge of the blowout preventer atop the well. He said he told the captain, Curt Kuchta, that he wanted to launch the emergency disconnect system, or EDS, designed to disconnect the rig from the well.

“Calm down. We’re not EDS-ing,” Pleasant said the captain told him.

About four to five minutes later, Pleasant said, he launched the procedure anyway. “I did my job,” he said.

However, after he pushed the buttons needed to activate the disconnect, “I saw that I had no flow, no hydraulics. There was no movement in my flow meters. There were no indications that anything actually happened,” he said.

His testimony before a joint panel of the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal Minerals Management Service is consistent with other evidence that the rig could not disconnect from the well, which continued to spew oil and gas up a riser pipe to the surface.

Pleasant said he had initially decided to proceed with the disconnect after he and a colleague had glanced at television monitors and noticed water and mud issuing from the well.

“Hey Chris, what’s that water?” Pleasant said his colleague asked. “Man, it’s probably coming out of the hole,” Pleasant said he answered.

Pleasant said he tried to alert superiors by calling several numbers on his office telephone. But no one answered.

A few minutes later, Pleasant testified, he ran into a man in a hallway who warned: “Man, I wouldn’t go that way. Something bad just happened.’

“I took off running to the main deck, and that’s when I saw the fire,” he said. “I heard popping. I still can’t remember the big explosion a lot of people say they heard. I never heard a big boom.”

When he reached the bridge, he said, he and the captain argued over Pleasant’s decision to disconnect.

“Four to five minutes later,” Pleasant recalled, “the captain said, ‘Hit the EDS.’ I said, ‘I already have.’”

After that, Pleasant said, the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship.

Kuchta testified before the panel Thursday, offering a different scenario. He said he was on the bridge with BP and Transocean executives, using a simulator, when he noticed drilling mud in the water. He said another manager came to him to ask to engage the emergency disconnect, which he approved.

-- Louis Sahagun in Kenner, La.