Burnt and sunk a week ago in 5,000 feet of water 50 miles off the Mississippi Delta, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform has presented huge challenges for first responders and cleanup crews. US Coast Guard pilots and EMT divers (see video below) braved the flames to evacuate 17 injured and return 100 other workers to their families. Days of nonstop searching turned up none of the 11 missing and presumed dead.
Now robot submarines the size of pickup trucks are leading the effort to plug the well and prevent an even bigger environmental disaster, as the oil slick oozes toward the Louisiana coast. Working at depths where no diver could possibly go, the robots bring spotlights, still and video cameras (Coast Guard photo above), and diamond-edged sawblades to the deepwater scene.
Hyperbaric emergency preparedness plays a small but important role in such a tragedy. Victims reportedly suffered burns and smoke inhalation. Search-and-rescue teams, too, face serious risks of burns, smoke inhalation, and decompression illness. We've yet to learn where the injured were evacuated and how they are being treated.