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Offshore Workers Recount Rig Collapse, Horror At Sea During Juan With PM-Kate Bjt

November 21, 1985 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Survivors of a Gulf of Mexico oil rig collapse during Hurricane Juan spent hours in silent desperation, clinging for life to a storm-tossed emergency capsule before they were rescued, a government panel was told.

The Coast Guard is hearing testimony this week about the Oct. 27 collapse of Penrod 61 and its collision with a second rig, Penrod 60, about 35 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The rig’s supervisor, John Nash, drowned, and dozens of workers were rescued from two survival capsules as the hurricane churned off the coast for four days, authorities said.


″Waves were bumping the rig and it would sway back and forth. I was on the bow (of the rig) when it went down,″ crane operator E.L. Purvis, 34, who was working the night of the storm, said Wednesday.

″I ran. There were lights falling. ... You couldn’t even see,″ he told the hearing officer, Coast Guard Lt. James M. Farley, who will report on the accident to superiors and possibly make safety recommendations against future mishaps.

A spokesman for Chevron USA, which leased the rig from Penrod, said the company had not ordered immediate evacuations because officials had not expected Juan to become a hurricane.

Purvis and other workers could not launch the survival capsule when the rigs collided, he testified. Later they managed to board the craft, and Purvis lowered it to the water, cracking his head when a jolt shook the rescue pod.

The capsules, self-sufficient radio-equipped bubbles, hold between 20 and 40 crewmen. They hang over the side of rigs and can be lowered by a winch or dropped into the water, depending on the emergency.

Men wearing lifejackets were strapped into seats of the pod when Purvis put the throttle into gear and tried to propel the craft in high seas, he said.

Later, ″we got hit with a giant wave and we capsized,″ he testified.

The craft did not right itself, and the men moved to one side, trying to turn it over, he said. Water began flooding the vessel, and ″everybody swam out the door,″ he said.

In darkness, the men clung for about three hours to the outside of the pod. They were constantly knocked off by huge waves and had to fight to clamber back aboard, he said. Several times, Nash, who had complained of chest pains, had to be helped back to the capsule, Purvis recalled.


″Then he got knocked away and we separated,″ Purvis said.

Electrician Michael Sumpter said he had bruises and cuts over his legs from being knocked off 50 or 60 times in the hours before the dawn rescue. He said 18 men were aboard his craft.

″Nobody was really speaking″ during the ordeal, Sumpter testified. ″It was a bad situation.″