Death toll in Seacor Power disaster rises to four as dive teams recover two bodies

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The confirmed death toll in the Seacor Power liftboat disaster has risen to four, after dive teams recovered two bodies inside the overturned oil exploration vessel in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Saturday, the search continued about eight miles off the Louisiana coast, as frantic family members held out desperate hopes that there could be survivors trapped inside air pockets of the massive capsized vessel.

Nineteen crew members were aboard the Seacor Power when the vessel flipped over in about 50 feet of water during hurricane-force winds and high waves on Tuesday. Six were quickly rescued, nine remain missing, and now four are confirmed dead.

The first two fatalities, recovered by the Coast Guard in the open water on Wednesday and Thursday, have been identified as Captain David Ledet, 63, and Ernest Williams, 69.

On Friday, private dive teams contracted by the boat’s owner discovered two more bodies in the port-side engine room of the vessel, which is flipped onto its starboard side. Authorities have not yet released their names.

Crew members of the Coast Guard Cutter Glenn Harris pull a person from the water Tuesday after the Seacor Power flipped. The confirmed death toll in the disaster has risen to four, after dive teams recovered two bodies inside the vessel

Crew members of the Coast Guard Cutter Glenn Harris pull a person from the water Tuesday after the Seacor Power flipped. The confirmed death toll in the disaster has risen to four, after dive teams recovered two bodies inside the vessel

Coast Guard members throw a hammer against the hull of the Seacor Power on Thursday as they search for signs of life. No contact has been made with the missing crew since two climbed back inside the capsized vessel on Tuesday

Coast Guard members throw a hammer against the hull of the Seacor Power on Thursday as they search for signs of life. No contact has been made with the missing crew since two climbed back inside the capsized vessel on Tuesday

'Capt. Dave was awesome,' Joshua Segura, a mate and crane operator, said of deceased captain David Ledet (above)

‘Capt. Dave was awesome,’ Joshua Segura, a mate and crane operator, said of deceased captain David Ledet (above)

Marion Cuyler, fiancée of missing crew member Chaz Morales, shows a worried expression as she talks on her cell phone at a fire station where family members of the missing crew members have gathered

Marion Cuyler, fiancée of missing crew member Chaz Morales, shows a worried expression as she talks on her cell phone at a fire station where family members of the missing crew members have gathered

The families and friends of the missing men are seen waiting for any news as crews search the Seacor Power

The families and friends of the missing men are seen waiting for any news as crews search the Seacor Power

‘Our deepest sympathy goes out to the family, friends and loved ones of everyone involved in this tragic incident,’ said Captain Will Watson, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans. ‘We are using every asset available to us to continue our search efforts.’ 

On Friday, rescue divers from Donjon Marine Company, hired by the boat owner Seacor Marine, returned to the scene at 7.50am to begin dive operations, searching the overturned vessel for any sign of survivors.

The divers had to stop diving mid-morning due to dangerous weather conditions, but resumed diving operations again at approximately 1.30pm, and were scheduled to work through the night, the Coast Guard said. 

The hope is that the missing men may have found air pockets to survive inside the Seacor Power, but more than 72 hours after the disaster, the chance of finding survivors was dwindling.

Such miracles have occurred, however. In 2013, Harrison Okene survived for nearly three days in a small air pocket inside a sunken tugboat, and was rescued by shocked dive team who only expected to find bodies. 

‘Right now, we’re hoping for a miracle,’ said Steven Walcott, brother of missing Seacor Power crew member Gregory Walcott. 

Authorities haven’t reported any contact with anyone inside the ship since Tuesday, when two survivors clinging to the hull awaiting rescue climbed back inside, unable to hold on any longer. On Thursday, searchers knocked on the ship’s hull without response. 

The confirmed death toll in the Seacor Power liftboat disaster has risen to four, after dive teams recovered two bodies inside the overturned oil exploration vessel in the Gulf of Mexico

The confirmed death toll in the Seacor Power liftboat disaster has risen to four, after dive teams recovered two bodies inside the overturned oil exploration vessel in the Gulf of Mexico

Captain David Ledet, 63, was confirmed dead in the boat disaster

Gregory Walcott, 62, was still missing on Friday

Captain David Ledet, 63, (left) was confirmed dead in the Seacor Power boat disaster and Gregory Walcott, 62, (right) remained among the missing on Saturday as the Coast Guard continued search efforts

The Secor Power (left) is a mobile platform that can work in up to 195 feet of water with three extendible legs. The large housing structure above the deck of the lift boat will likely pose significant challenges for divers

The Secor Power (left) is a mobile platform that can work in up to 195 feet of water with three extendible legs. The large housing structure above the deck of the lift boat will likely pose significant challenges for divers

Meanwhile, feelings of shock and worry were turning to frustration and anger for families of the missing.

‘It just keeps going on and on,’ said Frank Boeckl, whose nephew, Larry Warren, was among the missing workers. ‘They need more divers in that water, and every family feels this way. It´s not just me.’

Time is of the essence because any air pockets will eventually become depleted of oxygen, said Mauritius Bell, diving safety officer at the California Academy of Sciences: ‘At some point, it’s not survivable.’

Steven Walcott said the dive teams should have been working around the clock from the start. ‘It was more complicated than it should have been,’ said Walcott, who like his brother has worked on lift boats for more than 20 years.

But he said he was trying to remain optimistic, knowing his brother would do what he needed to survive, but it was getting harder with each passing day. ‘We´re just keeping hope,’ he said.

A total of six people were rescued shortly after the vessel capsized on Tuesday. The first Coast Guard ship arrived at the scene at 5.10pm, about 40 minutes after the initial distress signal, and spotted five men clinging to the hull, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Carlos Galarza.

A helicopter crew from Bristow, a marine company, lowered life vests and VHF radios to them, he said. Two of the men dropped into the water and were picked up by the Coast Guard. 

About the same time, Good Samaritan vessels rescued four other people, he said. The Coast Guard was also able to talk to the three people still on the ship’s hull using the radios that had been dropped.

Later Tuesday night the Coast Guard was notified that one person had fallen into the water from the hull and wasn’t seen again.

Shortly before 10pm, the two remaining people clinging to the hull told the Coast Guard they were going back inside, and that was the last time the Coast Guard spoke with them, Galarza said.

Missing crew member Quinon Pitre, 31. After the ship flipped over in hurricane-force winds on Tuesday, six crew members were rescued, and multiple were confirmed dead

Missing crew member Quinon Pitre, 31. After the ship flipped over in hurricane-force winds on Tuesday, six crew members were rescued, and multiple were confirmed dead

Missing crew member Jay Guevara

Jay Guevara with fiancee Krista Vercher

Missing crew member Jay Guevara is seen left and right with fiancée Krista Vercher. Divers searching for the missing oil industry workers prepared entered the overturned vessel on Friday

Missing crew member Dylan Daspit is seen with wife Hannah Coleman Daspit. Several crew members are confirmed dead and more are missing from the commercial vessel that capsized Tuesday near Port Fourchon with 19 people on board

Missing crew member Dylan Daspit is seen with wife Hannah Coleman Daspit. Several crew members are confirmed dead and more are missing from the commercial vessel that capsized Tuesday near Port Fourchon with 19 people on board

Missing crew member Dylan Daspit with wife Hannah Coleman Daspit

Dylan Daspit with wife and children

Missing crew member Dylan Daspit with wife Hannah Coleman Daspit (left) and the couple’s children (right)

Scott Daspit, father of missing crew member Dylan Daspit, walks into a fire station where family members have been gathering, after a liftboat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico during a storm on Tuesday

Scott Daspit, father of missing crew member Dylan Daspit, walks into a fire station where family members have been gathering, after a liftboat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico during a storm on Tuesday

Lafourche Parish Coroner John King identified the second liftboat worker found dead as 69-year-old Ernest Williams of Arnaudville. The other person found dead was David Ledet, a 63-year-old captain from Thibodaux.

‘Capt. Dave was awesome,’ Joshua Segura, a mate and crane operator, said on Facebook. He said he had worked with Ledet before moving to another offshore company, describing him as one of the nicest and most humble people he´s met.

‘Captain David has been on that boat over 15 years and is one of the most experienced captains I´ve ever worked with,’ he wrote.

Relatives of the missing have gathered at Port Fourchon, a sprawling base for much of the offshore oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The port, busy with cranes, cargo and heavy equipment, is where workers from across Louisiana and beyond load up on a fleet of helicopters and ships that take them to the rigs for long stretches of work.

‘It’s nerve-wracking’ for relatives waiting for news, said Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Lafourche Parish port, where families of the workers gathered Friday for a briefing on rescue efforts.

‘Obviously there´s some frustration there, not knowing about their loved one and not hearing from their loved one,’ he said. At the same time, he said: ‘There´s still some hope there.’

Relatives of the missing men have gathered at Port Fourchon (above), a sprawling base for much of the offshore oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico

Relatives of the missing men have gathered at Port Fourchon (above), a sprawling base for much of the offshore oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico

Marion Cuyler, who is engaged to missing crane operator Chaz Morales, demanded to know who had ordered the vessel to go out in bad weather. She said she'd told her husband-to-be that he shouldn't be going out in such weather

Marion Cuyler, who is engaged to missing crane operator Chaz Morales, demanded to know who had ordered the vessel to go out in bad weather. She said she’d told her husband-to-be that he shouldn’t be going out in such weather

Chaz Morales, one of the missing crew members, is seen left with his three children

Chaz Morales (right)

Chaz Morales, one of the missing crew members, is seen left with his three children and right with a friend

Darra Ann Morales, right, shows a photo of her son Chaz Morales and his family on her phone, as Chaz Jr. comforts his grandmother at their home in Slidell, Louisiana on Wednesday

Darra Ann Morales, right, shows a photo of her son Chaz Morales and his family on her phone, as Chaz Jr. comforts his grandmother at their home in Slidell, Louisiana on Wednesday

Marion Cuyler, who is engaged to missing crane operator Chaz Morales, wavered between optimism and fear after the relatives got closed-door briefings from Seacor executives and the Coast Guard on Friday. She said she believes all the missing men are inside the vessel.

‘Hopefully, they are all in one room, and they can just rescue them all in one day,’ she said.

The families expressed frustration during the briefing, and want answers to their questions about why the boat ventured out to sea despite warnings of an approaching storm, she said.

‘I asked, `Who gave the orders´ and of course – silence,’ she said. Cuyler said she’d told her husband-to-be that he shouldn’t be going out in such weather. ‘And he knew they shouldn´t have been going out.’

The Coast Guard said it had been classified as a ‘major marine casualty’ with the National Transportation Safety Board joining the investigation. 

Crew members of the Coast Guard Cutter Glenn Harris search for survivors Tuesday after a 175-foot commercial lift boat capsized

Six men were pulled alive from the water many remain missing

Crew members of the Coast Guard Cutter Glenn Harris search for survivors Tuesday after a 175-foot commercial liftboat capsized. Six men were pulled alive from the water but many remain missing

The ongoing search has been hampered by foul weather in the Gulf. Above USCG Heartland crew members search for survivors, throwing a hammer against the hull of the Seacor Power and listening for a response

The ongoing search has been hampered by foul weather in the Gulf. Above USCG Heartland crew members search for survivors, throwing a hammer against the hull of the Seacor Power and listening for a response

Part of the overturned ship’s hull and one of its legs were still visible, leaving most of the bulky vessel underwater, in an area 50 to 55 feet deep, according to the Coast Guard. 

The ship has three long legs designed to reach the sea floor and lift the boat out of water as an offshore platform.

The vulnerabilities of liftboats in storms have been known for years, and federal authorities have investigated multiple deaths on them. 

Four people on board the Trinity II died in September 2011 in the Gulf of Mexico when large waves struck its hull. 

Then in July 1989 a liftboat sank off the coast of Louisiana in storms associated with Hurricane Chantal. Ten of the 14 people on board died.

Coast Guard Capt. Will Watson said winds were 80 to 90 mph and waves rose 7 to 9 feet high when the Seacor Power overturned. 

What is a liftboat? Seacor Power tragedy follows history of safety problems for mobile oil platforms

The disaster on the Seacor Power has brought attention to the little-known liftboat, a specialized design with a history of safety problems in foul weather. 

A liftboat is a self-propelled, self-elevating vessel with a large open deck capable of carrying equipment and supplies, used mainly in mineral exploration and offshore construction.

Liftboats are equipped with legs that can be lowered down to the sea floor, rapidly raising the hull clear of the water to provide a stable platform for oil exploration or even maintenance on the vessel itself. 

The Seacor Power had three extendible legs, and was equipped with two cranes and a helicopter pad.  

A liftboat is a self-propelled, self-elevating vessel with a large open deck, and with legs that can be lowered down to the sea floor

A liftboat is a self-propelled, self-elevating vessel with a large open deck, and with legs that can be lowered down to the sea floor

The first liftboat was designed in 1955 by brothers Lynn and Orin Dean in Violet, Louisiana. 

In 1950 the Dean brothers owned a repair service for cars, boats and farm equipment called Universal Repair Service, which became their liftboat firm EBI, Elevating Boats LLC. 

EBI operates 30 liftboats that service the shallow, oil-rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico from their liftboat dock in Houma, Louisiana.

The Seacor Power was owned by Seacor Marine, and had a maximum working depth of 195 feet.

The vulnerabilities of liftboats in storms have been known for years, and federal authorities have investigated multiple deaths on them. 

Four people on board the Trinity II died in September 2011 in the Gulf of Mexico when large waves struck its hull. 

Then in July 1989 a liftboat sank off the coast of Louisiana in storms associated with Hurricane Chantal. Ten of the 14 people on board died.

Coast Guard Capt. Will Watson said winds were 80 to 90 mph and waves rose 7 to 9 feet high when the Seacor Power overturned.   

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