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QUINTON, Okla. - Five workers remained missing Tuesday after a natural gas well exploded and caught fire in Oklahoma one day earlier, sending out a smoke plume that could be seen for miles.
Officials said 16 other employees were able to get out of the area safely. One person was flown to a Tulsa hospital for treatment of unspecified injuries.
Emergency officials let the fire burn itself out and fought any flames that went beyond a perimeter they established.
Pittsburg County officials said they moved the mission from rescue to recovery on Tuesday. When the scene cools, the medical examiner will check the scene.
The missing individuals were identified Friday, including:
Ray, Smith and Risk worked for oil drilling company Patterson-UTI Energy Inc., which owns the well.
The company’s CEO, Andy Hendricks, said at a news conference that Patterson-UTI is supporting the families of the missing employees and working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as the agency investigates.
Workers will retain their jobs despite the loss of their job site, according to Patterson-UTI officials.
Authorities said the public was safe from contaminates and that there was no need for evacuations.
Pittsburg County emergency managers and the county sheriff confirmed around 9 a.m. local time that an explosion and fire took place at a well in Quinton.
The well is owned by oil drilling company Patterson-UTI Energy Inc., employees confirmed. In a statement, company officials said they were unaware of what caused the fire.
“We have received reports that some of our employees and others are unaccounted for at this time,” the statement said. “Our top priority is the safety of our employees and any others who may be affected. We've activated our emergency response systems and are fully cooperating with first responders and authorities on the scene. We will provide more details as they are known.”
The company's president and CEO, Andy Hendricks, later released a separate statement:
All of us at Patterson-UTI are deeply saddened by the news of the incident in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, this morning. Our hearts go out to the families of the five missing individuals, three of whom are Patterson-UTI employees. We've reached out to their families and are providing support during this difficult time.
At this moment, no one knows with certainty what happened, and it would be unwise to speculate. Well control experts and emergency responders are on site and we will conduct a thorough investigation when the incident is fully contained. We will provide updates as more facts are known.
There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our employees and others we partner with in the field. Tonight, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected and their loved ones.
Red Mountain Energy was operating the well.
FOX23 storm chasers in the area spotted the smoke plume from the fire miles away.
Grief counselors and religious leaders were offering support to families and workers on Monday. The American Red Cross was also working to help first responders as they worked to contain the fire.
Fire crews also searched woods for anyone that may have run from the scene, but they didn’t find anyone. Searches are expected to resume once the area cools down.
The drilling company has reportedly notified the families of the five missing people.