Oilfield troubleshooter "Red" Adair, blocked by strong winds from boarding the North Sea oil disaster platform a third time, aimed to renew efforts to cap blazing wells on Tuesday.
Gusts of 35 mph Monday fanned giant flames which have raged since a blast killed 166 men on Wednesday in the world's worst oil disaster.The team led by the 73-year-old Texan could not climb atop the tangled mass of red-hot metal and settled for swinging over the rig from a crane on the support ship Tharos.
Experts said this could be the toughest task yet for the veteran oilman. Never before has he had to plug so many wells and fractured pipes on a virtually destroyed platform.
"I guess this will probably be the worst," acknowledged Adair, who has earned the reputation of being the best troubleshooter in the business, fighting oil fires and plugging runaway wells around the world for 30 years.
A spokeswoman for the platform's owners, Occidental Petroleum Corp., said Adair hoped to try again on Tuesday. He successfully boarded the platform twice over the weekend. Back on land, a debate raged over Piper Alpha's safety record and whether gas had been leaking before the catastrophe.
Survivor Bob Ballantyne said he smelled gas on the platform days before the blast, but this was denied by Occidental.
Chairman Armand Hammer, 90, insisted the Piper Alpha platform where the explosion occurred had every safety device and a clean bill of health before the tragedy.
"This explosion was of such magnitude that it wasn't just ordinary leaks," he told reporters in Israel. "We had sensors which would have detected ordinary leaks and would have given us warnings. . . ."
Three more bodies have been recovered, but Occidental said it could be months until it was safe enough to send divers down to the seabed to look for the 146 men still missing.
The North Sea has some of the world's most inhospitable waters, and Occidental officials feared extra danger for divers as the platform weakened, tilting at 45 degrees.