MOBILE, Ala. (CN) – Three friends who planned to spend “36 hours of nothing but fishing” in the Gulf of Mexico say they unwittingly became first responders to a “chaotic scene of enormous proportion,” when they came upon the burning Deepwater Horizon. They found survivors of the oil rig explosion still in the water, “people screaming and crying out” and “one horribly burned survivor pleading for help.” They spent hours looking for bodies, and handed out all their supplies, and still suffer “severe emotional distress,” but neither BP nor Transocean ever offered them any thanks – or even responded to their emailed offers of the videos and still photos they took of the unfolding disaster.
Bradley Shivers, Mark Mead and Scott Russell say they set out on “their first tuna fishing trip of the year” on Tuesday, April 20, aboard Shivers’ 31-foot boat, the Ramblin’ Wreck. “Around 9:45 [p.m.], a distant light caught Bradley’s attention. He reached for binoculars and to his surprise he realized he was looking at what appeared to be a rig on fire,” the men say in their federal complaint.
They heard a woman’s voice coming over channel 16 on their VHF radio: “‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, this is the Deepwater Horizon. … We are on fire. There has been an explosion, and we are abandoning the rig.'”
“The plaintiffs then heard and felt a concussive sonic boom explosion. The plaintiffs responded to the Mayday call. It was nighttime, the plaintiffs were forced to run the vessel on radar.” They “pulled out life jackets, pillows, and other supplies that might be used.
The men say only one other boat was there when they arrived, the Demon B. Bankston, a supply boat. “At this time, and for a long time thereafter, this supply boat and the Ramblin’ Wreck were the only two vessels at the incident,” according to the complaint.
“When the plaintiffs arrived at the Deepwater Horizon, they found a chaotic scene of enormous proportion. There was no apparent organization, and it was difficult to determine who was in charge. There was confusion.
“The plaintiffs saw the bodies of several survivors lying onboard. Survivors who obviously needed medical attention. There were also 5-8 people still in the water at the time they arrived on the scene. They also recall seeing four or so lifeboats, rescue boats, and people screaming and crying out for help. Plaintiff Scott particularly remembers one horribly burned survivor pleading for help.
“The plaintiffs were asked to search around the rig for missing persons. Bradley asked how many, and the man responded that around 10 to 15 people were missing. It was unclear who was accounted for and who was not. There was debris in the water.
“On at least three occasions, one or more of the plaintiffs saw something floating in the water that could have been a body. Each time they suspected seeing a body, they would maneuver closer to the rig to get a better look. Each time it turned out to be debris.
“At some point, the Ramblin’ Wreck was requested to retrieve an industrial medical kit from a nearby supply boat that could not travel as quickly as Bradley’s vessel.
“Once they had picked up the medical supplies, the Ramblin’ Wreck raced back toward the Damon B. Bankston. This time, Bradley pulled up along the starboard side of the supply boat and passed the medical supplies to those onboard. The plaintiffs also provided the medical kits and supplies that were onboard the Ramblin Wreck as well as some water, cokes, and whatever else they could offer.
“The scene was chaotic and everyone was in shock.”
For hours in the darkness lit by the burning rig, the men say they “continued to make laps around the Deepwater Horizon, but they were unable to locate anyone still in the water. … Throughout the night, there were many times when the plaintiffs felt and heard deep rumbling sounds coming from deep below the surface of the water. It appeared to the plaintiffs that these rumblings were caused by other explosions. Although the plaintiffs were frightened, they continued to circle the rig in hopes they could save others.
“As the hours passed, Plaintiffs came to the conclusion that the missing men would likely never be found.”
By 3 a.m. on April 21, about 40 boats had arrived, and Coast Guard helicopters were flying overhead. The friends “decided they could be of no further help.”
The crew of the Damon B. Bankston thanked them for their help. “They also instructed the three men to contact BP to let the company know what they had done. The personnel said BP would want to compensate the plaintiffs for the medical kit, the fuel, and their efforts following the tragic explosion.”
But that never happened, the men say.
“When Plaintiff Mark returned home on April 21, he literally collapsed. Mark describes the turn of events as his personal 9/11. After a few days of painful anxiety attacks and recurring images of what he had seen and heard, Mark began taking medication to deal with his symptoms. To make matters worse, the oil spill resulting from the explosion has destroyed Mark’s business for the foreseeable future. It is hard to describe the stress and depression Plaintiff Mark experiences on a daily and nightly basis.
“Upon seeing his wife, Plaintiff Scott broke down in tears and said he would not wish on anyone what he had seen and heard. It remains difficult for Scott to discuss the details of what transpired at the Deepwater Horizon. Plaintiff Scott suffers severe emotional distress, discomfort, and anguish.
“When Plaintiff Bradley saw his wife for the first time, he broke down in tears and hugged her for a long time. His three children were home from school, and he also hugged them and told them that he loved them. Bradley remembers being very emotional, tired, hot, and dirty. He still feared for the missing rig workers. He knew they were dead but he hoped their bodies would be recovered. Plaintiff Bradley suffers from severe emotional distress, discomfort and anguish.
“Plaintiffs also relayed to BP that the plaintiffs had extensive videos and dozens of photographs of the accident scene that might help a professional determine what had gone so terribly wrong at the Deepwater Horizon. Because Plaintiffs thought the videos and photographs might provide some answers about how and why the tragic explosion occurred, he offered to share the materials with BP.
“No one from BP ever contacted Plaintiffs, and BP has not offered to pay for the cost of the medical kit, the fuel costs, or in any way compensate the plaintiffs for their voluntary rescue efforts on the evening of April 20 and the early morning hours of April 21.
“Bradley also emailed a representative of Transocean regarding the matter.
“No one from Transocean ever responded to the email, and Transocean has not offered to pay for the cost of the medical kit, the fuel costs, or in any way compensate the plaintiffs for their voluntary rescue efforts on the evening of April 20 and the early morning hours of April 21.”
The next pages of the 21-page complaint describe BP’s corporate history of alleged negligence and recklessness.
Named as defendants are BP, Transocean, Triton Asset Leasing, Halliburton Energy Services, Cameron International Corp., and Anadarko Petroleum.
The men seek punitive damages gross negligence, recklessness and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They are represented by Adam Milam of Fairhope, Ala.
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