LAFAYETTE, La. — A helicopter carrying 13 workers to a Christmas-week shift on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico crashed and burned on the deck of the platform Monday, killing 12 of the workers and both pilots, the Coast Guard said.
The lone survivor was flown by Coast Guard helicopter 100 miles to West Jefferson Medical Center in suburban New Orleans. He was in critical condition, suffering from burns.
Dabney Forestall, a rig worker who saw the accident, said the helicopter appeared to be approaching normally until "he had some kind of problems and he skidded off the heliport and hit the leg (of the oil platform).
"It looked like the tail section hit the leg, and he fell off the heliport and fell on the deck. They had a major explosion," Forestall said.
Chuck Kalnbach, speaking for the Coast Guard, said the rig operators confirmed 14 fatalities and said the bodies will be flown to Abbeville, where a morgue was set up.
Edward L. Villarreal, division manager of Forest Oil Corp., which operates the rig, said the 13 men worked for Penrod Drilling Co. and were arriving for a two-week shift.
"(The helicopter) was landing on the heliport and apparently--emphasize apparently--it hit one of the legs on the rig and crashed onto the deck," Villarreal said.
"I don't know the exact weather conditions. I can only speculate it was apparently windy."
A Coast Guard spokesman said the weather was so bad near the rig that one rescue helicopter had to return to shore. The Coast Guard reported high seas, scattered thunderstorms and visibility of only 150 feet in the area.
The fire from the crash was brought under control and did not spread to the rig, he said. The platform, designated Penrod 83, is about 60 miles south of Morgan City in the area of the Gulf known as Eugene Island, block 190.
The pilots were employees of Petroleum Helicopters Inc. of Lafayette, Villarreal said. A person who answered the telephone at their company refused to talk about the crash.
The survivor was identified as Anthony Fann, 23, of Destrehan, La. Hospital spokeswoman Beth Dutcher said he suffered third-degree burns over 95% of his body.
"When the hands got around to him, which was probably 15 or 20 seconds, he was crawling on the deck. He had all his clothes burned off him," Forestall said.
Penrod spokesman David Viviano said all of the dead Penrod employees were from Louisiana or Mississippi.
Meanwhile, no injuries were reported as fire on an oil platform in Cook Inlet, near Kenai, Alaska, burned out of control Monday.
All 49 workers there escaped after one of the rig's oil wells blew out Sunday evening, the Coast Guard said.
Fire boats sprayed seawater on the three-story-high structure to douse flames apparently fed by natural gas escaping from the well.