Haysville couple learns son who was on rig when it exploded is safe

The call came at 5 a.m. Thursday, an early wake-up call for Louie and Betty Terrell.

But the Haysville couple had no complaints. It came from their son Billy, who survived the massive explosion of an oil platform off the Louisiana coast.

"We were relieved," Louie Terrell said. "He sounded good."

Billy Terrell, 31, a computer repairman for the rig's owner, Transocean Ltd., had only 10 minutes to scramble off the platform and get in a lifeboat after the blast occurred late Tuesday night.

Eleven workers were still missing Thursday and chances of finding them were slim, officials said. Seventeen were injured, including four critically.

The Deepwater Horizon, which burned violently until it sank into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, could unleash more than 300,000 gallons of crude into the water every day, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The environmental hazards would be greatest if the spill were to reach the Louisiana coast, some 50 miles away.

Billy Terrell was one of 115 workers who made it off the platform. His parents learned Wednesday from their son's wife that he was OK, but they weren't able to talk to him until Thursday morning.

Louie Terrell said he wasn't aware of the explosion until a sister called him about it mid-morning Wednesday.

"At first, we didn't know if it was his rig," Louie Terrell said. "Once we found out it was... it was quite a time."

Hours later, the Terrells learned their son survived. Louie Terrell said Billy's wife, Jennifer, kept them updated through Facebook.

"She was very good about keeping everyone informed, especially considering what she was going through," Louie Terrell said.

Billy Terrell was in his living quarters on the platform and was getting ready to start his 12-hour shift at midnight when the explosion rocked the platform.

Workers were told to quickly get to the lifeboats. They were taken to a nearby supply ship and arrived ashore about 12 hours later, Louie Terrell said.

Billy Terrell and other platform workers were reunited with family members Thursday at a New Orleans hotel. He spent much of the day being debriefed by investigators, Louie Terrell said.

Billy and Jennifer, who have a 4-year-old son, then drove home to DeRidder, La., 230 miles northwest of New Orleans.

"It's been a long day for him," his father said.

Billy Terrell graduated from Campus High School, then joined the Army and studied computers.

"He told me, 'I know what I want to do, so I might as well go learn it and get paid to do it,' " Louie Terrell said.

Billy Terrell worked for oilfield services giant Haliburton, then took a job with Transocean a number of years ago, Louie Terrell said.

He served a three-week on, three-week off rotation on the platform.

The Coast Guard continued searching by air and water Thursday for the missing but hope was dim. Adrian Rose, a Transocean vice president, said surviving crew members indicated the missing may have been near the blast and unable to escape.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said crews saw a 1-mile-by-5-mile sheen of what appeared to be a crude oil mix on the surface of the water.

Oil giant BP, which contracted the rig, said it has mobilized four aircraft that can spread chemicals to break up the oil and 32 vessels, including a big storage barge, that can suck up more than 171,000 barrels of oil a day from the surface.

The federal Minerals Management Service said it had inspected the rig — roughly twice the size of a football field — three times since it moved to the site in January and found no violations.

Rose said the explosion appeared to be a blowout, in which natural gas or oil forces its way up a well pipe and smashes the equipment. But precisely what went wrong is under investigation.

A total of 126 workers, including 79 Transocean workers, were onboard the rig.