Blast Survivors Kept Isolated On Gulf For Hours In the aftermath of last month's explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, all the survivors wanted was to get to dry land and call their loved ones. Yet for more than 24 hours they were told to stay on ships and answer questions. Christopher Choy says he was so exhausted, he signed a waiver he wishes he hadn't signed.
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Blast Survivors Kept Isolated On Gulf For Hours

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Blast Survivors Kept Isolated On Gulf For Hours

Blast Survivors Kept Isolated On Gulf For Hours

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After the survivors were rescued from the burning oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, they stayed on the water for over 24 hours. One reason: There was a battle going on for information. The Coast Guard wanted to know what caused the explosion. The company that owned the rig wanted answers, too. Meanwhile, the men were desperate to call their worried families.

From NPR's investigative unit, correspondent Joseph Shapiro explains.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: The men who survived the burning Deepwater Horizon oil rig were picked up by the crew of a nearby supply boat, the Damon Bankston. Soon the Coast Guard arrived. One thing the officers wanted was a witness statement from the survivors.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER CHOY (Roustabout): They came on there and they gathered everybody in the galley on the boat and handed out a piece, you know, papers and stuff saying, this is statements. You need to sign these. Nobody's getting off here until we get one from everybody.

SHAPIRO: Thats Christopher Choy, a young roustabout on the oil rig. Choy took the witness form.

Mr. CHOY: And then at the bottom it says something about, like, you know, this can be used as evidence in court and all that. I told them, I'm not signing it. Most of the people signed it and filled them out and stuff. I just didn't feel comfortable doing it.

SHAPIRO: The Coast Guard acknowledges it kept the men on the water in part to get statements. But Choy says he thought the man who gave him the form said he was a lawyer with BP, the oil company. BP says it had no lawyers there.

Choy didn't sign the Coast Guard form. But he'd come to regret that he didn't refuse the next time he was asked to sign something. He was desperate to see his wife. Chris, who's 23, and Monica, who's 19, were married last October.

Monica first learned about the explosion from a phone call from an eyewitness. It was Chris's stepfather, who worked on another rig 30 miles away from the Deepwater Horizon.

Ms. MONICA CHOY: He said that the first thing he asked is please don't tell me that's the Horizon, and he said, because that's my son. My son's on that Horizon. And you know, they told him that it was. And he just came in a panic.

SHAPIRO: Monica would spend the next 12 hours waiting to hear if her husband was dead or alive. She called and called a number for Transocean, Chris's employer, and the owner of the rig. When someone finally called her back, they could only say her husband was on a list of the survivors. That wasn't good enough for Monica, at home in Houston.

Ms. CHOY: Never been on a plane before. I actually got a cab cause I couldnt drive. And I got a cab and I've never been in one of those before. And then I flew for about 45 minutes. It scared me but I didn't care at the time.

SHAPIRO: By the time she got to the hotel in Louisiana, Chris was still on a boat.

Mr. CHOY: And that's all, you know, everybody on the boat kept talking about was, man, I wish they'd just let me call me wife. I wish they would just let me call my wife, so she could know I'm okay.

SHAPIRO: He wouldn't get on the land until about 28 hours after the explosion on the oil rig. Then someone handed him a cell phone and he had a minute to, for the first time, call Monica to say he was safe. Two hours later, he was escorted into the hotel where his wife waited in the lobby.

Mr. CHOY: It was a little different, but it was a lot like the day we got married. She was - she smiled at first, and then it went to tears. I thought she was going to choke me out, hugging me.

Ms. CHOY: I just didn't want to let go. You know, I just wanted to stay there and just hold him.

SHAPIRO: But before they could go home, there was one more form and one more attempt to get the survivors to give information. At the hotel, there were representatives for Transocean. Choy says they asked him to initial a line that said: I was not injured as a result of the incident or evacuation.

Choy had seen men with open wounds and burning flesh. He knew 11 of his friends were dead. He felt he was among the lucky ones. Exhausted and just wanting to get home with Monica, he signed.

Mr. STEVE GORDON (Attorney): And that's how they treat them. It's absurd, it's unacceptable, and it's irresponsible.

SHAPIRO: Steve Gordon is Choy's attorney in Houston.

Mr. GORDON: Criminals get a chance to talk to a lawyer. I mean, they purposely kept them away from the public.

SHAPIRO: Gordon says Choy can't go back to his old job on the rig. He's being treated for nightmares and flashbacks. And when Choy sued his employer, Transocean wrote back and said: But you signed that form. You said you weren't injured. Choy's angry, too, that it's being held against him.

Mr. CHOY: No, it shouldn't count because I'd been up for almost 40 hours and, you know, just gone through hell. And they want to throw papers in my face for me to sign to take them, you know, out of their responsibility.

That's one of the things they preached to us the entire time you work there and do any kind of training is be responsible. That's part of their core values is responsibility. And then the first thing they threw at me when I get to the hotel, you know, is a paper relieving them of their responsibility.

SHAPIRO: Transocean says it's focused on the oil spill cleanup and it can't comment on lawsuits.

Chris says the company now has a responsibility to him: To help him get medical treatment to deal with his constant memories of the sounds, smells and sights of the fire and death of that night at sea.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News, Houston.

SIEGEL: And you can see parts of Joseph Shapiro's interview with Christopher Choy tonight on the PBS "News Hour," or you can see it at

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