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myth making

Andrea Fleytas
Daryl Peveto/LUCEO for The Wall Street Journal

"After the Blast, Horizon Was Hobbled by a Complex Chain of Command;

A 23-Year-Old Steps In to Radio a Mayday"

In the minutes after a cascade of gas explosions crippled the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, confusion reigned on the drilling platform. Flames were spreading rapidly, power was out, and terrified workers were leaping into the dark, oil-coated sea. Capt. Curt Kuchta, the vessel's commander, huddled on the bridge with about 10 other managers and crew members.

Andrea Fleytas, a 23-year-old worker who helped operate the rig's sophisticated navigation machinery, suddenly noticed a glaring oversight: No one had issued a distress signal to the outside world, she recalls in an interview. Ms. Fleytas grabbed the radio and began calling over a signal monitored by the Coast Guard and other vessels. "Mayday, Mayday. This is Deepwater Horizon. We have an uncontrollable fire." When Capt. Kuchta realized what she had done, he reprimanded her, she says. "I didn't give you authority to do that," he said, according to Ms. Fleytas, who says she responded: "I'm sorry."

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.

  • The chain of command broke down at points during the crisis.
  • Written safety procedures hindered responses.
  • Authority to do an emergency shutdown was unclear.

Ms. Fleytas, one of only three female workers in the 126-member crew, was on the bridge monitoring the rig's exact location and stability....

...Injured workers were scattered around the deck. Others were yelling that the rig was going to blow up. "There was no chain of command. Nobody in charge," Mr. Ramos said.
...Capt. Kuchta and about 10 other executives and crew members, including Ms. Fleytas, were gathered on the bridge, which was not yet threatened by fire. 

Andrea is considered a heroine for her actions that day. She was one of the last people on the lifeboats.

Once the life raft reached the ocean, it didn't move, even as fire spread across the water. Some hanging on to its sides thought the heat of the rig was creating a draft sucking the craft back in. Terrified, Ms. Fleytas rolled out of the raft into the oil-drenched water.

"All I saw was smoke and fire," she recalled. "I swam away from the rig for my life."
Minutes later, the rescue boat from the Bankston plucked Ms. Fleytas and several others from the water. The crew of the small boat saw that a line attached to the life raft was still connected to the burning rig.

"Cut the line," yelled one Bankston crew member. Another passed over a knife, the raft was cut free, and the last survivors were towed away from the fire. All told, the Bankston rescued 115, including 16 who were seriously injured. A Transocean spokesman says that the fact that so many survived "is a testament to the leadership, training, and heroic actions" of crew members.

The WSJ story says the events on the bridge raised questions about whether the rig's leaders were prepared for handling such a fast-moving emergency, but the story ends with the heroics of Andrea Fleytas and Transocean's opinion that so many survived due to the "leadership, training, and heroic actions" of crew members, presumably including the last people discussed -- the rig's leaders, and Andrea Fleytas.

When the captain gave his only order—to abandon ship—he and Pat O’Bryan and other managers ran to the lifeboats and were launched to safety. One of the last to abandon the rig, Fleytas went below deck and saw the remaining lifeboats on fire. So she leapt into the flaming sea 60 feet below, swimming out from under the inferno.

Let us recall back to one of the many posts we did at the time of this disaster, when Mark Levin had a witness on his program, "James," and he said various things including this:

Mark: So, the eleven men who died, were they friends of yours?
James: Yes sir, they were.
Mark: Did they die instantly?
James: I would have to assume so. Yes, sir. I would think that they were directly inside the bomb when it went off, the gas being the bomb.
Mark: So, the bomb being the gas explosion?
James: Correct. They would have been in the belly of the beast.


In recent testimony, perhaps Andrea's actions seem less than heroic.

In the final moments before the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 killing 11 men, the worker who monitored the oil rig's safety systems said she failed to immediately sound alarms when indicator lights warned her of the highest danger.

In testimony before a federal investigative panel in Metairie late Tuesday, Andrea Fleytas said she felt the rig jolt that evening and saw more than 10 magenta lights flash on her screen notifying her that the highest level of combustible gas had entered the rig's shaker house and drill shack, critical areas where the rig's drilling team was at work.
Everyone who was thought to be working in that area of the rig was killed. If the general alarm had sounded, it may have given them time to evacuate to safer areas.
All 115 workers who survived were located in other parts of the rig.
If Andrea had not failed to sound the alarm, perhaps the eleven people who died would have had time to evacuate their stations. More than ten warning lights were flashing. Her training was to sound a general alarm any time more than one light flashed. Do the math.
Fleytas said she was trained to sound a general alarm any time more than one indicator light flashed, but didn't do so immediately in this case because she had never been trained to deal with such an overwhelming number of warnings.

"It was a lot to take in," Fleytas said, testifying by telephone from California. "There was a lot going on."

She said she eventually "went over and hit the alarms" after the first or two large explosions.
Members of the Marine Board investigative panel and lawyers for various parties of interest never asked Fleytas how much time passed between when the first high-gas indicators lit up and the explosion. But BP's chronology of events, based on rig data and employee interviews, estimated it was anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes.

Fleytas herself testified that after the jolt and before the first explosion there was time for several things to happen: Startled by the disturbance, colleague Yancy Keplinger left a rig-steering simulator and directed a closed-circuit television camera to the starboard side of the rig to find drilling mud gushing out of a diverter tube; Fleytas received a telephone call from crew members on the drill floor who said they were fighting a kick of gas and oil in the well; she took another call from the engine control room asking what was happening and she told them they were having a well control problem; and she continued to hit buttons on her console acknowledging the multiple gas alarms popping up in various sectors of the rig.

A few seconds after she got off the telephone with the engine room, there was a blackout on the rig. A few seconds after that, the first explosion rang out, Fleytas testified. It was then that she sounded the general alarm.

This is remarkably different from the WSJ investigation, which found Andrea Fleytas heroic.

Rig owner Transocean had decided to make the sounding of their rigs' general alarms a manual function, to prevent them from triggering automatically whenever a fire or gas signal registered in more than one zone. The company has said it wanted to give employees on the bridge control over the general alarm so the fleet wouldn't experience so many false alarms.
Interesting thought process. While false alarms may be annoying, would workers on a dangerous oil rig be willing to put up with false alarms in the interest of safety? Making the sounding of alarms a manual function opened the door to our old friend, Human Error. And Human Error is very convenient. Especially if a young woman makes the Human Error after influential people (see about page: "not American, Asian or European: we are the largest global-elite action network for foreign and defense affairs—focussing on the young, new elite of the world") had already decided she was a heroine. Then, when the truth comes out later, like now, people can waste time arguing about sexism and ageism (see comments) rather than the facts of the case. Win win.

Also critical to protecting the doomed members of the Deepwater Horizon's drill team was a system that could have cut off ignition sources once gas entered the rig. Fleytas said there was an emergency shutdown system someone could have activated to shut off ventilation to certain areas, such as the drill shack and engine room, to keep methane gas from igniting or overspeeding the engines.

But Fleytas said she knew of no protocols for activating the emergency shutdown and no one activated it. Gas likely ignited in the drilling area, killing everyone there, and also caused the two active engines to rev so high that all power on the rig was lost, preventing fire pumps from working and keeping the rig from moving away from the spewing well.

Fleytas is a dynamic positioning operator who is responsible for monitoring rig systems from the bridge and using computerized controls to keep the rig in place. At the time of the incident, Keplinger, the senior dynamic positioning operator, was helping corporate officials who were visiting the rig use a video-game-style simulator.

Keplinger said in his own testimony that it was after the explosion when he first "noticed a lot of gas in there and called" the shaker house to try to get whoever may have been there out, but nobody answered the phone.

Fleytas said that Capt. Curt Kuchta, the rig's master, was near her when the magenta lights indicated the highest possible danger of combustible gas, but she said she didn't know if he saw them. But she also said she didn't need to consult with anyone or wait for any orders to activate the general alarm when the multiple lights went off.

In other news from the Marine Board hearings in Metairie, a BP employee that monitored drilling finances at the Macondo well testified Wednesday that the project was $54 million overbudget when the blowout happened. That's well beyond the $43 million previously estimated by investigators and a mark-up of almost 60 percent over the originally budgeted cost.

Some have speculated that BP made time-and money-saving decisions that compromised safety because of the cost overruns, but BP's Michael Beirne said such overruns are not uncommon. He said he'd handled costs for one other BP well in the Gulf of Mexico and it was a full $100 million in the red.

Beirne said Anadarko Petroleum and MOEX Offshore agreed to invest a total of 35 percent of the project's cost after drilling had already begun, but signed off on all of the additional costs and had the ability to track all rig activity. Still, the agreement between the two investors and BP says that Anadarko and MOEX bear no liability for losses if it is determined that they were due to gross negligence by operator BP.

"The easiest way to run a false flag attack is under the cover of a military exercise," says Captain Eric H May, a former US intelligence officer.
Did something similar take place when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded?

Here are some facts as reported:

Yancy Keplinger and Andrea Fleytas were employed by Transocean as the senior and junior dynamic positioning operators. Keplinger, the senior operator, was "was helping corporate officials who were visiting the rig use a video-game-style simulator" at the time of the accident.

Fleytas, the junior operator, was thus in charge but she failed to sound the general alarm despite ten magenta lights flashing on her screen.
Another witness (inadvertently?) described the explosion as a bomb on Marc Levin's nationally syndicated radio program.

  • BP paid Transocean $1.5 million a day to drill the relief wells.
  • The companies remain partners partners in production despite their fingerpointing.
  • Transocean realized a $267 million gain when insurance paid off the Deepwater Horizon.
  • Transocean is seeking to take advantage of federal maritime laws that could cap its liability at $27 million - less than it was paid in a month by BP to drill the relief wells.
  • Transocean merged with Sedco Forex in 1999. Sedco had a similar disaster to Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979, called Ixtoc. Oil gushed for nine months.
  • Transocean merged with Global Marine. In 1973 Global Marine contracted with the CIA to build a ship capable of retrieving a Russian sub from the seafloor. That ship, the GSF Explorer, is the only U.S.-flagged ship in Transocean's fleet, stationed off Angola.
  • In 2008 Transocean moved headquarters to Switzerland to avoid paying US taxes.
  • "The company's shares started trading in Zurich on April 20, the same day the Deepwater Horizon exploded."

"Yancy Keplinger, dynamic positioning operator for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, who was on the bridge during the explosion, wipes a tear as he testifies during Deepwater Horizon joint investigation hearings held by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Management Regulation and Enforcement in Metairie, La., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010." (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


chuckyman said…
Firstly A.P. you should be taking it easy, admiring the sunset and gathering strength for the coming storm.

In a less patronising vein I think this is very damning testimony. A junior technician in a place of great responsibility (reminded I’m sure of the need to ‘make progress’ most likely) ignores multiple warnings. The senior BP manager who was just visiting made sure of that frame of mind. Do as you are told or save lives? No do-over’s or even time to think – just act.

It is all too common that most will simply do as the boss tells them rather that say shove it. I’m sure the little PR puff piece will cover over this unfortunate gap in the reality field. Right and wrong are not abstract philosophies they are choices to make – and no one can do it for you.
A. Peasant said…
thank you Chuck for your concern. i am getting better slowly. typing still sucks but is tolerable.

as for these two, my cynicism meter is pinning the red zone.

i see a lot of incredibly puffery around her and she is untouchable due to age and sex. we have the tragic heroine.

meanwhile not too much info at all about keplinger. tag team.
chuckyman said…
Your instincts are spot on. This is a classic tactic –straight out of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ (or communism if you prefer). After each disaster or setback they come around to remind everyone of what their memories of the event should be. Any contradiction is put down to false memory. That’s why we get so many disaster anniversary specials – to reinforce the lie.

Now in the place of greed and disaster we have a young heroine to adore. I wonder how she feels knowing that she is being used. The pictures of her with her tiny dog and with a doll on the mantelpiece made me want to puke. Thankfully not every who commented was as gullible.
A. Peasant said…
or worse, maybe she is not being used unwittingly. maybe she is an "art students" of some sort...?
chuckyman said…
Indeed A.P. we’ll see by her future actions. Not many female art students working on oil rigs (grin). That's why the dolls and pooch stood out for me.

v word = pintsmin (make mine a pint LOL)
A. Peasant said…
a pint it is ; D

bad actress.
Anonymous said…
Sabotage is a strong possibility.

- Aangirfan
A. Peasant said…
thank you Aan. i think so too.