QUINTON, OK. — Five people are missing after a fiery explosion ripped through an eastern Oklahoma drilling rig, sending plumes of black smoke into the air and leaving a derrick crumpled on the ground.
Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris said in a statement that more than 20 employees were at the natural gas well site when the blast was reported around 8:45 a.m.
Aerial footage shows several fires were still burning by midday on the rig and other equipment; the derrick, a towering metal structure above the well, collapsed onto the ground.
Emergency crews were pulled away after other explosions at the site, where several tanks are also located, Pittsburg County Emergency Management Director Kevin Enloe said during an afternoon news conference.
WRAL.com reports that the explosion occurred west of the town of Quinton, about 100 miles southeast of Tulsa. Firefighters were letting the blaze burn and weren’t putting water on it to keep from spreading possible hazardous materials at the site.
17 workers were pulled from the site following the blast, including one who suffered minor burns and was treated at the scene, with crews searching the surrounding woods to see if anyone had fled into the area.
Confirmation of any fatalities won’t be possible until the fire is extinguished and investigators can get to the scene of the explosion, said Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma medical examiner’s office. State environmental and regulatory officials have been notified and were heading to the scene, according to Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain.
Matt Skinner, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and gas operators in the state, said, “The drilling site was being operated by Oklahoma City-based Red Mountain Operating.Skinner said the company has not had any incidents or complaints in the last five years. Skinner said a company that specializes in rig fires and other well control problems also responded to the blaze.