2012-02-02 / Front Page

Fourteen Rescued off Drilling Rig

PHOTOCOURTSEYOF K.BRICKER PHOTOCOURTSEYOF K.BRICKER On January 25, 2012, at 7:30 p. m., Lee County Dispatch received a 911 call from a Nabors Drilling employee reporting 14 of their workers were stranded on a drilling rig located about two miles off FM 1624 in Lexington. Nabors was there preparing to drill on the Harrison property for Vanedo Oil and Gas. Employees were setting up the 27’ tall rig, in preparation for drilling, which was scheduled to start the next morning.

According to Paul Janacek, Director of Administration for Venado Oil and Gas, the workers noticed water rising and it was already at about four feet deep. Not knowing the area, the men called 911 and the local emergency crews responded.

Sheriff Rodney Meyer and Fire Chief Donnie Milburn, Lexington Volunteer Fire Department, went to the location three miles south of Lexington on FM 1624 at the Yegua Creek. They met with a Nabors Drilling employee to survey the situation. It was determined that the water level of the Yegua Creek had been rising rapidly since about 7:00 p.m., giving no means for evacuation for the 14 men. The moving water was between three and four feet high around the rig itself.

It was also determined the rig had lost generator power and the vehicles that the workers drove to the site were disabled. A water rescue was considered, but, when that was not successful, officers quickly decided assistance from Star Flight would be needed. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department, set up a landing zone on FM 1624.

The Star Flight helicopter arrived and was briefed on the situation. Around 8:00 p.m., a rescue tech was lowered to the rig to help instruct the men on how to put on the rescue harness. Soon, the first of the 14 drillers was rescued; however, a second helicopter had to be called after the first helicopter had a hoist malfunction. The second helicopter rescued six other workers, before running low on fuel.

The Austin Fire Department also responded, sending its Special Operations Regional Response Team to help in the rescue with their water craft. Due to the rapid water conditions, and the water levels, rescue by use of the water craft had to be abandoned for the safety of everyone.

Star Flight was recalled, and, after their arrival around 12:15 a.m., they continued their mission to rescue the last seven employees. This was very time consuming as Star Flight could only get one worker off the rig at a time. They would take that worker to dry ground before going back for another.

Once they got all the workers to dry ground, Star Flight brought out three of the workers at a time to the designated landing zone. At around 1:25 a.m., the last of the 14 drillers was rescued to safety and they were taken to local hotels for the night.

Helping in the rescue were Sheriff Rodney Meyer, Chief Deputy Nathan Lapham, Deputy Robert Carvin, Lee County Sheriff’s Office Communications, Lexington Fire Chief Donnie Milburn, several other members of Lexington Volunteer Fire Department, Austin Star Flight and the Austin Fire Department Special Operations Regional Response Team.

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