C A R L    S A F I N A


For the 7th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout.


Photo by Carl Safina. Oil slick off Alabama, June 2010. 

“Mike Williams, who minutes earlier could have had both now departed lifeboats to himself, watches eight other survivors drop an inflatable raft from a crane.

In weekly lifeboat drills they’d practiced accounting for everyone. There is no longer such a thing as ‘everyone.’

Now left watching are Williams, another man, and twenty-three-year-old Andrea Fleytas. Williams experiences several more blasts that he’ll later describe as ‘Take-your-breath-away explosions. Shake-your-body-to-the-core explosions. Take-your-vision-away explosions.’

Fire spreads from the derrick to the deck itself.

Williams sees in Andrea’s eyes that she seems resigned to death. He says, ‘It’s okay to be scared. I’m scared, too.’ She says, ‘What are we gonna do?’ Williams outlines the choice: Burn up or jump down.

From where they are, it’s ten stories to a black ocean. Bloodied, backlit by raging fire, Williams takes three steps and jumps feet-first. ‘And I fell for what seemed like forever,’ he later recalled. He thinks of his wife, their little girl. ‘A lotta things go through your mind.’

Love conquers all. But only sometimes.

He crashes into the sea and the momentum takes him way, way beneath the surface. He pops up thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve made it.’ But he feels like he’s burning all over. He’s thinking, ‘Am I on fire?’ He just doesn’t know.

He realizes he’s floating in oil and grease and diesel fuel. The smell and the feel of it. He sees that the oil that has become the sea’s surface beneath the rig is already on fire.

Says to himself, ‘What have you done? You were dry, and you weren’t covered in oil up there; now you’ve jumped and you’ve landed in oil. The fire’s gonna come across the water, and you’re gonna burn up.’ He thinks, ‘Swim harder!’ Stroke, kick, stroke, kick, stroke, kick, stroke, kick. As hard as he can until he realizes: he feels no more pain. He thinks, ‘Well, I must have burned up, ’cause I don’t fee l anything, I don’t hear anything, I don’t smell anything. I must be dead.’”


 A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout Get your copy of  here.




This passage is based on a 60 Minutes report that features Mike Williams, CBS News, May 16, 2010.