Deadly Trend: Disabled Alarms On Gulf Oil Rig, In W. Va. Mine

Coast Guard battles fire at rig in the Gulf of Mexico, April 21.

On April 21, Coast Guard fireboats battled the blaze at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Handout/Getty Images North America hide caption

itoggle caption Handout/Getty Images North America

There's a saying in newsrooms that "three makes a trend." But this disturbing news — and the likelihood that that there could be more such tragedies waiting to happen — makes the case for not waiting for a third disaster to highlight the similarities:

"An electronics technician aboard the ill-fated oil rig Deepwater Horizon told an investigative panel Friday that an alarm system was partially shut down on the day the rig exploded," the Associated Press writes.

From New Orleans, The Times-Picayune adds that:

"The technician, Mike Williams, an employee of rig owner Transocean, said he didn't like the practice of 'inhibiting' critical warning and safety systems. But higher-ups insisted on it for such reasons as not wanting to be awakened in the middle of the night.

"The decision appears to have been a game-changer for the 11 men who were killed in the accident, especially those working on the drill floor at the time. When methane gas shot onto the rig a little before 10 p.m., the bypassed alarm meant the men on the drill floor had no audio or visual warning to help them escape ... and the lack of an emergency shutdown system left engines free to suck in more gaseous air, causing them to overspeed, explode and spread the fire."

Just last week on Morning Edition, NPR's Howard Berkes and his colleagues on the network's investigations unit reported that "miners who've worked in Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia say disabling methane monitors was relatively common and was justified by mine managers with false descriptions of mining regulations."

It was at that mine where 29 men died in February when an explosion ripped through the tunnels.

This is one trend we all hope ends now.

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