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Rescue crews continued scouring the waters of the Gulf of Mexico today looking for 11 missing drilling rig workers even as the rig, which had been burning since Tuesday night, sank beneath the waves.

A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said the rig sank at 10:20 a.m. A few hours later, Coast Guard officials confirmed again the rig was fully submerged and that the fire had been extinguished. The agency had initiated plans to mitigate the environmental impact of the accident, Coast Guard Fireman Katherine McNamara said. The “worst case scenario,” she said, was the vessel would spill 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel as well as crude oil into the Gulf. She did not have more details on cleanup efforts. There were 126 crew members aboard the semi-submersible rig, owned and operated by Transocean, who had only minutes to abandon the platform before it was swallowed in fire, according to company officials. “This would have happened very, very rapidly,” said Adrian Rose, vice president of quality, health, safety and environment for Transocean, the largest drilling contractor in the world, which is based in Switzerland but keeps major offices in Houston. Stanley Murray, the father of one of the workers who escaped from the rig said in an interview in Louisiana this morning his son told him he didn’t think any of the missing could have survived. “The 11 that’s missing, they won’t find ‘em,” Murray said. “They’re burned up.” Three people were critically injured among 17 who were flown by air ambulance to hospitals in New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., for treatment after the fire broke out around 10 p.m. Tuesday. Family of one of the missing crew members has filed the first federal lawsuit Thursday in the Eastern District Court of Louisiana against Transocean and BP. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Shane Roshto, a roustabout who was working on the rig when the accident took place. Roshto is believed to have been thrown overboard and killed while following the instructions of his employer, Transocean, and performing his duties, according to the suit. The complaint alleges negligence on the part of Transocean and BP and that the accident was caused by the companies’ failure to comply with federal regulations and statutes, as well as failing to provide a competant crew, a safe workplace and properly supervise employees, among other allegations. Natalie Roshto, Shane Roshto’s wife, who also is a plaintiff in the suit, “is distraught as she does not know whether or not her husband is alive and is currently suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other injuries which will be show upon the trial of this matter,” the complaint read. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages. The semi-submersible rig has been under lease by BP since 2007. It had completed cementing and casing of an 18,000-foot exploratory well, Rose said, when a sudden and abnormal pressure buildup occurred in piping connecting the well to the rig. The well depth includes the 5,000 feet of water in which the rig was floating. “Gas or oil got into the pipe and as it came up through the riser it expanded rapidly and ignited,” Rose said. While the incident appeared to resemble a blowout, Rose cautioned that it was far too early to determine the exact cause. He said a formal investigation would begin only after the missing crew members have been found and other workers have been reunited with their families. While most of the hydrocarbons were being burned off by the fire, a light sheen could be seen on the surrounding waters, and seven major oil spill response vessels were in route to the area, said Rear Admiral Mary Landry, commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District. Landry also said a “massive” rescue effort included three helicopters, a plane and four Coast Guard cutters that scoured a 900-square-mile area. Overnight, the search was scaled back to two cutters and early this morning a broader search, including aircraft, will resume. Coast Guard Fireman McNamara said Thursday afternoon that one helicopter and one Coast Guard cutter were currently searching Gulf waters for the workers. and that so far the agency had covered 2,000 square miles.

Crew from several firms

Rose said 79 of the workers were Transocean employees. BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said his firm had six employees on board who have been found safe. Halliburton said it had four workers on board and that all were accounted for. Evacuees from other third-party firms were still being identified. The affiliations of the 11 missing remained unclear, and Transocean declined to release their names. The firm is setting up bases in New Orleans and Port Fourchon, La., where families can get information and be reunited with loved ones. “Our greatest responsibility is the safety and well-being of our crews,” Rose said. “The ongoing care and support and counseling of families is also on our minds.” In a recent fleet report, Transocean said that Deep­water Horizon entered service in 2001, can operate in 10,000 feet of water and drill to a depth of 30,000 feet. Last year, the rig drilled the deepest oil and gas well ever at BP’s Tiber discovery in the Gulf of Mexico — to a depth of 35,050 feet — while operating in 4,130 feet of water. The Coast Guard’s Landry said she believed the rig had been inspected three times since the beginning of the year. Transocean has 14 rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico. The company employs about 18,500 people. Rebuilding the same rig today would cost between $600 million and $700 million.

One of the worst in years

The incident on the Deepwater Horizon, which was working on the Macondo prospect for BP in a deep- water area known as Mississippi Canyon, appears to be one of the worst offshore fires in the Gulf in several years. Major offshore fires are relatively rare and can be caused by any number of events, from improper welding to blowouts of flammable hydrocarbons. The Coast Guard will try to determine the cause of the blaze with BP and the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the Coast Guard said. The incident is the latest in a string of accidents at U.S. oil and gas facilities that have put the industry’s safety record in the spotlight. Six people died during an April 2 explosion and fire at Tesoro’s Anacortes, Wash., refinery. Three workers were injured at an April 14 fire at Exxon Mobil’s Baton Rouge refinery, and one worker died April 19 in a crane accident at Motiva Enterprises’ Port Arthur refinery. “Every time an incident like this occurs, we ask ourselves what we can do better,” Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, told reporters in Houston Wednesday morning after hearing about the Deepwater Horizon fire. ”Among the oil and gas industry, any injury or fatality is too much.”