Mike Williams on Deepwater Horizon - 60 Minutes

Working on Deepwater Horizon, Mike Williams had to jump approximately ten stories from the rig to save his life.  In this clip from a 60 Minutes interview, Williams relates what he knows about events leading up to the explosion—and—what he did immediately thereafter.

The day before the disaster, Williams—the Chief Electronics Technician aboard Deepwater Horizon—had about five hours of sleep. There hadn’t been anything unusual happening aboard the vessel during that time frame.

Mike believed that the day of the disaster—April 20, 2010—would actually be a slow-maintenance day because the guys on the rig floor had finished their cementing job. During testing, following that cementing work, no rig-floor maintenance would be needed. 

The starboard crane was part of Mike's job on the day of the explosion. Working there, for about an hour, he visited with Dale Burkeen, the crane operator. Then Mike tested the boom of the crane.

Everything seemed fine. Everything aboard the vessel seemed normal.

Around 9:30 PM, on the night of April 20, Mike was on the phone with his wife, Felicia Williams. At first everything was still fine, but then ... during the phone conversation with his wife ... things changed.

Both Mike and Felicia Williams heard an announcement about gas. Felicia heard the announcement through the speaker phone.

Mike told his wife that he didn’t need to check it out. They’d had so many announcements like this, with this particular well, that the crew members were hearing alarms all the time. Mike “had become immune to them.”

Something was different this time, though. Mike soon started to pay attention to the gas levels. That’s because it wasn’t just the alarm this time. He was hearing other noises, too.

After the alarm, Mike heard a hissing noise and a thump. He was directly below the riser package which is not far from the rig floor.

Hearing both a thump and a hiss, Mike assumed that a hydraulic leak had developed. He stopped the conversation with Felicia.

Within seconds, thereafter, Mike heard some beeping. It was coming from his ventilation system.

The beeps were continuous. Could the beeping be from erroneous alarms or was something more ominous going-on?

Preparing to check on things, Mike heard the engines start to rev. At this point, he didn't know why the engine was producing such high RPMs. One thing he did know, however. He had never heard the engines running this fast before.

Mike’s shop was directly at the rig’s center. He knew that Engine 3 was online, but it continued to rev higher and higher and higher. As the engine revolutions continued to rise, Mike realized a serious problem was happening aboard the rig.

As he pushed back from his desk, Mike saw his computer monitor explode. All the lights in his shop physically popped. “Now I know we’re in trouble,” Mike later tells the investigating panel during a public hearing on the disaster.

The engines, by this time, were spinning so fast that the whole setting seemed completely unreal. When the engines finally stopped running, Mike heard a huge explosion.

The first explosion blew the fire door, in his shop, off its hinges. It also blew Mike across the room.

Within seconds, the CO2 system started to discharge. (The CO2 control was inside his shop.) Due to a lack of oxygen, it was becoming harder and harder for Mike to breathe.

Williams also couldn’t see anything. He made it to the next door by feeling. When he reached up, to grab the next door, a second explosion occurred.

The second explosion pushed Mike back about 30-35 feet. He became "angry with the doors" because it seemed like they were beating him to death. Among other things, they struck him in the forehead.

In a place filled with CO2, and diminishing amounts of oxygen, Mike’s arms and legs weren’t working properly. He needed fresh air immediately.

As he crawled his way through the rubble, Mike saw two men who seemed unresponsive. Barely able to help himself, at this point, he was unable to help his colleagues.

Panels for the floors were missing, complicating Mike’s efforts to reach a water-tight door. When he finally saw a dim light, he was encouraged. At least he was getting closer to the outside, where he could breathe fresh air.

Walking upwind of the fire and smoke, Mike was finally able to get his bearings. What he saw was more than distressing. Everything in the area had been blown-off the rig. He didn’t see any stairs. He didn’t see any handrails.

Turning from his current position, Mike started moving toward the starboard side of the rig. He knew there were lifeboats there, and he was tempted to launch a lifeboat (even if he were the only one in the boat). He didn’t do that, however. He put on his life jacket, trying to make his way to the bridge.

If he couldn’t make it to the bridge, he would return to launch the life boat.

As the hissing sounds worsened, the derrick became engulfed with fire. At that point, Mike realized what had happened at Deepwater Horizon. They’d had a blow-out.

Reaching the bridge, Mike gave a bleak report to Curt Kuchta, Deepwater Horizon’s Captain. The rig had no power, no propulsion and no ECR (engine control room).

Over and over and over—according to Williams' sworn testimony at the public hearing—Mike told the Captain they had to abandon ship.

No one could find a medic or medical supplies to help Mike with his injuries. He was left with one remedy—toilet paper. He put some toilet tissue on his head to stop the flow of blood into his eyes.

Steve Bertone, Deepwater Horizon's chief enginer who’d been on the bridge, volunteered to start a generator—even if he had to do it alone. Despite his injuries, Mike volunteered to go with him.

Another man joined them to find, and start, the standby generator. After several attempts to get it running, however, the men had to give up. The generator just wasn’t working.

Making their way back to the bridge, to report these further issues to the Captain, Mike and his colleagues saw Life Boat 1 being lowered to the water. The Captain had issued an order to abandon ship. Jimmy Harrell, the Offshore Information Manager, had issued an EDS order to disconnect the rig from the wellhead.

Actually, both forward life boats were descending, by that time. In order to reach the rig’s aft life boats, Mike and his colleagues would have had to go back through a very dangerous part of the damaged rig.

With no choices left, the men had to launch a smaller life raft. They were only able to launch one of three available rafts.

There were problems with launching the raft, however. Among other issues, the raft was positioned at a bad angle. The men worried that they’d be unable to successfully lower it at all.

By this time, the fire was completely out of the top of the derrick. During his testimony at the investigative hearing, Mike recalled:

Stuff is flying everywhere.

In addition to the thick smoke, the heat was intense. Mike worried that the life raft would “cook” itself to death before it could be lowered over the side of the rig.

When the first raft was full, three people were left without a place. Mike wasn’t sure that he could successfully deploy another raft.

One thing was clear to Williams. He, and the other two people who couldn’t get into the raft, could either stay where they were—and surely die—or they could take their chances by jumping off the side of the rig.

Williams was with one man and one woman. The woman said she couldn’t jump. Mike told her to watch him, and do what he did.

After he jumped into the water, Mike became covered with sludge. He didn’t know what it was, but it was burning him. He started to back stroke until he could no longer feel pain or heat. That’s when he thought he must have died.

Some time later, Mike started feeling the heat and the pain again. He resumed swimming.

Somewhere, in the distance, he heard “Over here … over here.” Swimming as hard as he could, toward the voices, he was rescued by someone in a small orange boat.

The rescuers couldn’t leave the area, though, because people were still in the water. One of those individuals was Andrea Fleytas (who had called-in the "Mayday" alert).

Looking at all the lights in the water, the rescuers knew something strange was going on. As they approached the burning rig, they realized that the small life raft was still under the rig.

Some of the explosion survivors were outside the life raft. No one had a knife, to cut the raft loose from the rig, because Transocean’s policy was “no pocket knives” allowed.

Although the life raft had a cutting device aboard, no one could find it. Panic does that to people.

Fortunately, someone in the rescue craft had a knife. With it, the survivors in the life raft could cut themselves loose from the rig and head toward the Damon B. Bankston (a Tidewater boat which became the Deepwater Horizon’s main rescue ship).


Media Credits

Video clip from the 60 Minutes interview with Mike Williams, aired on 16 May 2010.  Clip online, courtesy 60 Minutes and CBS Channel at YouTube.

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Mike Williams on Deepwater Horizon - 60 Minutes" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jun 02, 2020.
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