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Families await news of missing workers on capsized ship

Dawn Saddler, sister of missing crewmember Gregory Walcott, talks to reporters as she leaves a briefing for family members by Coast Guard and NTSB officials in Port Fouchon, La., Friday, April 16, 2021. The Coast Guard has told families of missing workers that another body has been found from the lift boat capsized off the Louisiana coast and a coroner has confirmed that to a news outlet. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

PORT FOURCHON, La. (AP) — Worried family members were waiting Friday to hear the fate of 11 workers still missing after a lift boat capsized earlier this week off Louisiana while the Coast Guard confirmed it pulled a second body from the Gulf of Mexico’s waters.

Rescuers in the air and the sea have been searching for the 19 workers who were aboard the vessel, which is designed to support offshore oil rigs, when it overturned Tuesday in rough weather about 8 miles (13 kilometers) south of the Louisiana coast.

“Right now, we’re hoping for a miracle,” said Steven Walcott, brother of missing worker Gregory Walcott.

Six people were rescued Tuesday shortly after the vessel capsized, and one other body was recovered from the water Wednesday. The second body was found in the water near the partially submerged Seacor Power lift boat Thursday night, according to a Coast Guard news release. The boat has three legs designed to extend to the sea floor and raise the ship so it can serve as a platform for nearby rigs.

The hope is that those still missing have found air pockets to survive inside the ship. But authorities haven’t reported any contact with anyone inside the ship since Tuesday. On Thursday, searchers knocked on the ship’s hull without response.

Meanwhile, feelings of shock and worry were turning to frustration and anger for families of the missing.

“It just keeps going on and on,” said Frank Boeckl, whose nephew, Larry Warren, is among the workers still missing. “They need more divers in that water, and every family feels this way. It’s not just me.”

Boeckl says Warren is an engineer who was scheduled to work the night shift Tuesday, so family members believe it’s possible he was in the bunk house sleeping when the boat overturned.

Time is of the essence because any air pockets will eventually become depleted of oxygen, said Mauritius Bell, diving safety officer at the California Academy of Sciences: “At some point, it’s not survivable.”

Divers went into the water Friday but had to come back up mid-morning as the weather became too dangerous to continue, the Coast Guard said in a news release. They resumed diving Friday afternoon.

The large housing structure above the deck of the lift boat will likely pose significant challenges for the divers, naval architect David Bourg said.

“Imagine if you take a four-story building with multiple rooms in it, turn it upside down and put it in the water and try to navigate it with a flashlight — that’s what you’re looking at here,” said Bourg, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of New Orleans’ School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

Two of the missing workers had been communicating with rescuers by two-way radio Tuesday after the ungainly platform ship flipped over in hurricane-force winds that day. They were spotted clinging to the overturned hull but returned to seek shelter inside after a third man fell into the water and was lost.

Lafourche Parish Coroner John King identified the second lift boat worker found dead as 69-year-old Ernest Williams of Arnaudville, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. The other person found dead was David Ledet, a 63-year-old captain from Thibodaux.

Relatives of the missing have gathered at Port Fourchon, a sprawling base for much of the offshore oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico. The port, busy with cranes, cargo and heavy equipment, is where workers from across Louisiana and beyond load up on a fleet of helicopters and ships that take them to the rigs for long stretches of work.

Some relatives have expressed frustration about why the boat was out at sea in such rough weather. Walcott, who has also worked on lift boats, said the boats are not designed for travel in rough weather.

“It’s nerve-wracking” for relatives waiting for news, said Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Lafourche Parish port, where families of the workers gathered Friday for a briefing on rescue efforts.

“Obviously there’s some frustration there, not knowing about their loved one and not hearing from their loved one,” he said. At the same time, he said: “There’s still some hope there.”

People have been providing food and other things such as gas cards so relatives of the missing can get home, he said.

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Martin contributed from Woodstock, Georgia. Associated Press reporters Janet McConnaughey and Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that the second body was found on Thursday night, not Friday.

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