Veteran firefighter Paul "Red" Adair on Saturday boarded the burning wreck of a North Sea oil platform where 166 men died in the world's worst oil rig disaster.

He and members of his firefighting team began the dangerous task of making the smoldering hulk safe after being lowered to it in a metal basket attached to a crane on a ship.Occidental Petroleum, which operates the Piper Alpha platform 120 miles off the Scottish coast, said it would take several days to make the wreck safe.

It said fires were still burning on several of the 36 well heads. No gas was believed to be escaping, but the risk of an explosion could not be ruled out.

Cooling water from the support vessel Tharos was being pumped onto the wreck before efforts began to clear loose debris.

"This phase will take some days. Once the debris is removed there will be better access to begin the work of capping the leaking wells," the spokesman said.

Adair, 73, of Houston, Texas, spent an hour on the platform before examining video pictures taken by an unmanned submarine that circled the damaged underwater structure of the installation.

Authorities declared a 10-mile danger zone around the platform after rescuers stopped searching for 149 bodies still missing.

Only 64 oil workers escaped death when explosions and fire ripped through the platform on Wednesday night. Eighteen survivors are still hospitalized, one with critical burns.

Occidental said a surface ship on Saturday recovered part of the platform's living quarters where up to 100 men were trapped after a first explosion, screaming, "We are all going to die."

The company said the part of the accommodation section recovered appeared undamaged and no bodies were on board.

The only remaining module on the original platform contains all 36 wellheads. Adair was studying submarine pictures off the plaform structure to determine whether they could be repaired.

Occidental said no oil appeared to be leaking from a rupture discovered in a main line that takes crude oil from the platform to the shore.

"We are at present studying a way of displacing this crude so that a repair to the line can be undertaken," a spokesman said.

The disaster was a major blow to Britain's oil industry and has forced the precautionary closure of six other off-shore fields in the area accounting for 12 percent of the nation's oil production.