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The ROV operators

Yesterday I visited the Ocean Intervention III in dock at Port Fourchon. It was a blazing day, and Port Fourchon is a place without trees or plants or even, as far as I could tell, dirt. There's just gravel and various makeshift structures baking in the heat next to slips for the boats that come off the gulf and into port via Bayou Lafourche.

The Ocean Intervention is a big ship that has a single function, which is operating two robotic submersibles (ROVs -- remotely operated vehicles). The robots do all the subsea work. They're unsung heroes of this oil spill story.

For a few minutes I got to sit in the pilot chair, as though I was going to fly the ROV. They don't "drive" ROVs, they "fly" them, because it's in 3-dimensions and they use a joystick just like if it were a fighter jet. They also have two claws. The left claw is for fine manipulation. The right claw is called the Conan. It's the barbaric hand, the big smasher, the powerful fist in the deep. The ROV operators said they love the work, best job in the world. I'll write more about that later.

Today I'm back in DC and monitoring the hearings in Kenner. Mike Williams, one of the Transocean guys, gave a riveting account this morning of how he survived the explosion. When all the lifeboats were gone, he had to jump off the rig, some 80 feet above the water. He was badly injured in the initial blast. He hit the water, surfaced, and found himself burning with oil, hydraulic fluid, diesel fuel, etc., and began to do the back stroke to get away from the intense heat. Then he stopped feeling any pain. Then he stopped feeling the heat from the fire.

"That was it; I was dead."

But somehow he came back to life, heard someone calling "over here," got fished out, helped rescue others. Riveting stuff.

You can watch the hearings here.

By Joel Achenbach  |  July 23, 2010; 9:16 AM ET
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Hello! (Hello...hello...ello..lo...o)

Posted by: bobsewell | July 23, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I'll bet those ROV guys, like, totally rock at that arcade game with the claw.

It's great that you were given such access. To me, this suggests that you earned their trust.

I'm hopeful, obviously, that these hearings will contribute to safety improvements. If nothing else, the hearings should remind people in similar industries that the line between a good day and a really, really bad day is sometimes razor thin.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | July 23, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

[Insert obligatory "Toy Story 2 (or 3)" claw joke here] :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 23, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

The industry should take a hint from "The Last Starfighter" and create an arcade game that encourages players to develop the same skills as ROV operators. Get a huge cadre of paying customers to pay for training themselves as a pool of backup operators. I bet you could also then sell ROVs to the public (somewhat less capable than these ones, I should think). Think of it like excess computing capacity that can be put to work for cloud computing. Cloud ROV'ing -- got a big underwater problem going on? Call for volunteers from the public, and their little ROV's, too!

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 23, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Windy3 | July 23, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Were there not enough lifeboats, or did they leave him behind?

Posted by: dmd3 | July 23, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Dmd, good question. With the fire and smoke, he might not have been able to find the lifeboats in time-- or at all.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 23, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Is that the same guy who was on 60 minutes?

Posted by: -bia- | July 23, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Scottynuke - Yep, I was thinking the same thing. I keep imagining one of the ROV operators suddenly yelling out, "All right! Double prizes!"

Posted by: RD_Padouk | July 23, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

It is a steam bath here today, this is not how I would like to cool off.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 23, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

How steamy? Definitely one of those days that suits "It is not the heat it is the humidity"

And this after some monsoon rains an hour or so ago.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 23, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

bc has his own street, complete with exploding beer vats??? Some people have all the luck... :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 23, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Same guy as 60 minutes I believe - in that interview he and a couple other survivors were left behind by the lifeboats. From his own description of the situation I can somewhat sympathise with those who hurried away.

Posted by: qgaliana | July 23, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

This may be an unfair comparison as Hibernia is a fully functioning platform in dangerous seas, but the Macondo platform would it have had any similar safety precautions. As I said my dad when out to the Hibernia platform several times and spoke about the evacuation procedures, if they were on the well in the Gulf what went wrong.

It is Friday my mind is all over the place today.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 23, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

If anyone accidentally swallows poison, just quickly read Noot's editorial that the WaPo is showing today. It is about the controversial plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero.

That ought to get you fixed.... unless the bottle that the poison is in says to NOT induce vomiting.

Posted by: baldinho | July 23, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Disabling the alarm system probably did not help:

Posted by: seasea1 | July 23, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Daniel Schorr has passed away. What a great reporter.

Posted by: seasea1 | July 23, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

RIP, Daniel Schorr. I can hear his voice in my head.

Posted by: talitha1 | July 23, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

The alarm system thing reminded me of a house I was looking at buying a few years ago. It was a small starter home, built on a dirt crawlspace.

The builder had set up an exhaust fan system to purge the moisture from the crawlspace. It had a humidostat, motor and fan.

When the building inspector went down there to take a look during the runup to an agreement, he noticed that about 1/3 of all the joists in the crawlspace were heavily rotted. You could put your finger right through them. He was puzzled, and that is when he noticed the motor of the ventilation system was turned off.

He turned it back on, and it immediately started up. He turned it back off.

When we went back upstairs, the owner mentioned the motor.

"You turned that thing on? Man it is loud. I turned that off a long time ago. I couldn't hear myself think."

The inspector estimate was that it would take $4000 to fix the damage. Needless to say, I did not buy the house.

Posted by: baldinho | July 23, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

To my mind the difference between Ocean Ranger and Deepwater Horizon is that the first cause of Ocean Ranger was naturally-occurring weather and not human agency, although Ocean Ranger's portholes should have been designed to withstand storms in the North Atlantic, and the crew should have been issued survival suits and the support boats should have been equipped for search and rescue, none of which obtained in fact.

Posted by: Yoki | July 23, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I guess my point Yoki was the the Deepwater Horizon should have had similar precautions as Hibernia (who learned the lesson from Ocean Ranger). If all the lifeboats had gone then there were not enough for all the crew, as unfortunately some were not even able to make it off the rig.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 23, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Baldinho, loved your song story. It works the same way for me.

Sneaks, I'll take some.

This is the start of our 2nd and last implementation for our current, huge project. I was going to sleep until 10 or11 because I'll be up all night, but I got called at 830 AM. But, yanno, got everything back in short order so I'm good. Those of us remaining in my building are going to party whenever possible during tonight's 8 hr downtime.

Doesn't the military have some Recruiters who look for recruits in gaming arenas, pointing out how close some are to weapons systems?

Have a good day, all.

Posted by: -dbG- | July 23, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

A second helping is in order.

Posted by: baldinho | July 23, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I agree dmd, though I don't know that it has been established that there weren't enough spots in the lifeboats in the case of DH, or whether they just pulled away with fewer people than they could hold.

To the larger point that the lessons learned from OR should have been widely heeded, the solution is, as always, effective regulation rigorously enforced. We know how effective the MMS has been judged to be.

Posted by: Yoki | July 23, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I notice that there are no comments allowed on the Daniel Schorr article. Is that just because he was a particularly polarizing figure, or have they given up on permitting comments for the obituary of any public figure? So many of the comments on obituaries and retrospectives are the kind of thing that make you feel that widespread neutering of humans might be a good idea from an evolutionary perspective.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 23, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

SciTim: I am almost always appalled at the comments made when someone dies. People have no sense of decorum any more. You don't have to like someone, or respect someone. You DO have to resist the urge to post "Yayyy! He's finally dead!"

Posted by: baldinho | July 23, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Did you type "widespread" when you meant "wholesale," Tim?

Heck of an obit, though. I especially liked the part where CNN tried to take back their dish.

Posted by: byoolin1 | July 23, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

SciTim, I've noticed the absence of comment boards on obits, too, probably for the very reason you cited. It's a shame because genuine memories and tributes are always interesting to read.

Posted by: talitha1 | July 23, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm inclined to think that they may well be loath to allow the comments on obits / remembrances. Man, there are some crazy-cruel people out there.

They should probably also disallow them for any story mentioning Obama, Israel, Islam, Republicans, Democrats, Darwin, dog owners...

Posted by: bobsewell | July 23, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Oh *expletive* -- Daniel Schorr died at 93.

*hand on heart with gratitude and wishing more journalists were as brave and as tremendously competent as he was*


Posted by: ftb3 | July 23, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I am too young to know Schorr in his heyday. But wait. Perhaps it is a fitting tribute that he was used weekly as a pundit/voice on NPR up until... this week? I knew he was older, but 93? Wow. I guess his heyday lasted a looooong time.

Let's just say that I can only hope that I will be as lucid and in demand at 93.

Posted by: baldinho | July 23, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

It was forbidden in the ebt home to conduct any activities between 9 and 9:15 Saturday monrings whilst friend wife got the latest from Daniel on NPR. RIP - a life well-lived.

Posted by: ebtnut | July 23, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I keep having an image in my head of Schorr out in his yard in Woodley Park with a baseball bat fending off the CNN guys who came to repo his satellite dish.

Posted by: talitha1 | July 23, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

They actually do have a moderated group for the Schorr obit:

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 23, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I loved listening to the sonorous baritone of Daniel Schorr on NPR. Especially when he read from his children's books. And I giggle the way they say 'Dutchess County.'

Posted by: yellojkt | July 23, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Children's books? Are you sure you don't mean Daniel Pinkwater? Or am I too gullible by far, and that's exactly what you meant, yello?

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 23, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Uh, dude, that's Daniel Pinkwater...hahahaha...

Posted by: seasea1 | July 23, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

My bad. All those Daniels on NPR sound alike. Seriously, Schorr was one of those Voices Of Reason who was hard to argue with. I had no idea he was 93. What a long storied life he lived.

Posted by: yellojkt | July 23, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Snuke, thanks for posting the link to the moderated group on Schorr. Great stuff.

Posted by: talitha1 | July 23, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Unmoderated comments seem hazardous anymore. Lately, anything on Latinos, undocumented immigrants, or Muslims sets off stuff far worse than Newt's mosque-ban rant.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 23, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

DotC, even comments on Joel's oil spill reports are whackadoodle-magnets!

Posted by: talitha1 | July 23, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

This is from Scott Simon's remembrance of Dan Schorr:
"When he was in his 90s, he would receive a critical note or e-mail now and then that began, "I hate to criticize a man who must be 75 ..." and waved it exultantly to his co-workers.

"Look," Dan would say. "They think I'm 75!"

Posted by: seasea1 | July 23, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

RIP Boodle?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 23, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Schorr was extraordinarily durable. And what lasted was worth NPR's limited airtime. I appreciate that NPR News is information-dense, unlike local TV news and various others.

On the nasty, no-good comments that appear in comment sites, I confess to having had one comment removed from a respectable site. It was my response to a review of a recent hagiography of Ayn Rand. I had thought I was on my best behavior.

Still, the stuff spewed about Latinos has become genuinely frightening. I've seen two newspaper stories about Hispanics, including US citizens, leaving Phoenix due to harassment. One was by the Guardian's New York correspondent, the other in the LA Times. The Times story carried a US citizen's plans to leave because of being stopped, regularly, by police officers.

It looks as though Miami Herald news columnist Andres Oppenheimer was correct in predicting that Florida would receive new residents and lots of business thanks to Arizona's new immigration law.

There's also reason to be indignant at the weather purveyors: the much-hyped tropical storm has so far provided us with 0.21 inches of rain. That's not enough to do much about a bona-fide drought.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 23, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

The boodle isn't dead, it's merely resting. Joel, for darn good reasons, is focused on the oil spill, and, well, there is just so many things you can say about that. Besides, it's hot and people are off doing stuff.

The boodle will endure.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | July 23, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

The Boodle abides.

Posted by: seasea1 | July 23, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

It's... aliiiiive!

Posted by: Yoki | July 23, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

It's siesta weather following by a long, cool bath. I assumed the boodle had received the same memo I did. Now off to whip up some gazpacho, the only thing I can face for supper in this heat.

Posted by: talitha1 | July 23, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

We have had a major break in the heat and humidity. I am sitting here in a sweatshirt!! It has been raining on and off and the temp is about 70. The heat will be back but it is sorta nice to not sweat for a while. I'm also feeling very tired, must be the temperature change.

Hey Scotty, they spotted a great white shark off Salisbury Beach today. No confirmation from officials however. This weekend is the Shark tournament on Martha's Vineyard. SIL is competing, as he always does. Wonder if they'll see any great whites? (Cue theme from Jaws.)

Posted by: badsneakers | July 23, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

I went out into the yard a bit earlier to pull some weeds and remove some of the flotsam (Or is it jetsam? If only there were some curmudgeonly person around to clarify.) filling my yard after a recent windstorm.

It be hot out there.

I started to feel positively woozy. Fortunately I am now inside where it is cool and have made myself a refreshing beverage. Soon there shall be baseball.

But that has the risk of making me all woozy as well.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | July 23, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Is the Shark Tournament one of those competitive eating contests? You and a Great White in a wading pool.

Some days you eat the shark, some days it eats you.

Posted by: Bob-S | July 23, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

For the first time in six weeks or so we actually had a rainy afternoon. It rained. For hours. Not terribly hard, but normal rain. The last six weeks has been nothing but passing thunderstorms.

It was refreshing. It is 66 degrees F here right now. It will be wonderful sleeping tonight.

Posted by: baldinho | July 23, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

I think it's the heat keeping the boodle sluggish.

I spent a perfect day off today with a friend I haven't spent enough time with lately. Her son and mine were in school together and for years we scheduled our work to have our days off together. Then she went and got a full-time job.

We started out this morning with a late breakfast, then saw the noon showing of "The Kids Are All Right," and then did some shopping. By the time I got in my car around 4:00 p.m., the thermometer in it showed the outside temperature at 109°F.

Yup. It's hot out there.

The movie was good and we both enjoyed it. The previews for "Mao's Last Dancer" and the French movie "The Concert" looked great.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 23, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Oh Bob, you are a kidder ;-)

The site doesn't give a lot of info but does have stuff on last year's tournament. There has been controversy around fishing for shark. But the little ones are put tagged and released and marine scientists have credited the fishermen for helping them keep track of the shark population, so I don't personally see a problem. But YMMV.

Posted by: badsneakers | July 23, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Yer cruel, baldhino!!! *L*

Sneaks, are you sure it was a Great White and not a trout that swam past Seabrook? :-)

Waiting for the Evening Patrol was brutal, even being in the shade with a slight breeze! It'll probably be comparably awful just walking to the post office tomorrow morning! :-O

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 23, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

I love gazpacho, Talitha. Enjoy.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 23, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

In the driveway at home (shade), the vehicle thermometer read 103. In the driveway of the mountain house (also shade), 80. 79 in the house, so Mr.T turned on the a/c.

However, there were 3.3" of water and a dead bumblebee in the rain gauge. so at least the flowers are not dying from lack of moisture.

Posted by: slyness | July 23, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Yes, dear boodlers, those of you with temps anywhere below 75 degrees - if you love us, just hush!

*faxing gazpacho to Wilbrod* I always make a gallon at least.

Posted by: talitha1 | July 23, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Good evening, friends. WOW. That guy is so lucky to be alive. He went through a lot.

We had a thunder boomer, but before, it was just too hot. The water was just pouring off me. And the feeble breeze blowing through that car didn't stand a chance against all that heat. It is a tad better now since the rain, but more of the same tomorrow. I should lose some weight hanging out in the heat.

When I came out this morning on my way to the Center,my neighbor was laying in front of her car. Her neighbor, who weighs about 90lbs soaking wet, trying to help this lady up. Bless her heart, she's a tad larger than me, so you know the size here. She signals me to come help, and I go over, and she and I can't budge this woman. I told her to call 911. They get there, lift her up, she refuses to do as they say, gets in her car and drives off. And she did not sign the paper for the EMS guys. Needless to say, none of us heard a thank you. I could barely limp back to my car, and all this with a cane.

I will pay dearly in the morning, but you just hate to see someone laying on the ground not able to get up. And she was on her way to dialysis.

It has been an interesting day to say the least. Grandsons should be here tomorrow, that should round the week out. I hope I'm able to walk in the morning. I'll bet that lady is sore too.

Have a wonderful weekend, folks, enjoy your families, and give God some of your time. And I love you all.

Posted by: cmyth4u | July 23, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Hah! Sneaks, your reference to Salisbury brought a Proustian moment for me. When I was 9 years old I was taken (by whom, I don't remember: certainly not my family), and I had my first taste of pizza! It was bought from a truck like an ice cream truck.

What an epiphany I had! Food actually had a taste beyond roast beef and mashed potatoes or hamburgers and mashed potatoes or hot dogs and baked beans (or mashed potatoes)!

I wish I could say that that first pizza taste changed my life, but it didn't – until college – ut that's another story....

Posted by: rickoshea11 | July 23, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra - My oh my. Some people's kids.

Posted by: Bob-S | July 23, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, some people! It's just amazing. I hope you are NOT sore and that you have a great time with your grandsons.

BTW, how is the mother-to-be doing?

Glad y'all had rain.

Posted by: slyness | July 23, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

In my travels around town recently I saw a pizza truck! Great idea, I thought. But it was just parked, not actually in service. I believe it was also advertising that it had tacos and popcorn too.

I grew up in a little town with lots of Eye-talians, so some of my fondest memories are of buying slices of pizza, and my favorite food is spaghetti.

Posted by: seasea1 | July 23, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Busy busy busy and haven't backboodled, but read the kit. Hope all are well.

JA, glad you got to play pilot. Did they give you wings to wear for the rest of the day? A real one with a pin and all or a TSA-approved sticker? Really though, way cool. Who'da ever thunk it?

Also, glad to hear you're working on something about the ROV operators...I've been wondering about them and the people who came up with the solution (temporary though it may be). It's so easy to think about the awful terrible BP that cut every corner and exploited every loophole and be spitting-nails angry, but not so often do we think of those hard-working stressed-out, probably haven't had a decent meal or seen their families in weeks people working to make it right. Of course there hve been untold good people thinking real hard about this around the clock, but some group of people finally came up with something viable *and then* other people pulled it off. Since a second step can't be taken until the first one is successful, we should probably know who these people are so we can raise a glass to them.

Have a very happy night all.

Posted by: LostInThought | July 23, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

That's funny Rickoshea, my first taste of pizza was at a drive-in movie in Rochester NH when I was 11. It was an epiphany for me as well. We had similar menu options at home, altho' the roast beast always came with Yorkshire pudding. I think I was probably 15 before I had a 'real' pizza. And the one good thing that came from my marriage was learning about all sorts of Italian food (I don't think I'd ever seen an eggplant or an artichoke until I started dating the ex).

Cassandra, I too hope you feel okay in the morning. Wish I could send you some of our cool air and rain (oops, sorry, won't mention it again). Have a great time with your grandsons this weekend.

Scotty, it was probably a tuna or something. I think we've got shark on the brain up here now.

Posted by: badsneakers | July 23, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

The first time my mother saw pizza (in DC, after WWII) she said she thought it was the grossest looking food she'd ever seen. But she tried it and loved it. Just the look of it was shocking to her.

And this is from a person who grew up with eggplant moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, etc. Not really a white-bread upbringing.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 23, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

The frozen-pizza business seems to find new niches pretty regularly. Fluffy crust, skinny crust. Flooded with cheese goo or (!) cheeseless. Flooded with cheese or artistically showing off medallions of goat cheese or mozzarella with green veggies. White pizza. Organic pizza.

Maybe someone will invent a pizza built on a giant corn tortilla.

The risk of rain (which turned out to be a no-show) led to taking a look at the beach. Despite a breezy day, no noticeable erosion. A few baby sea turtles were coming out of an unmarked nest. They did quite well at finding the water.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 23, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

An itty bitty
kitty is up and ready
for boodloving

Posted by: DNA_Girl | July 23, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Yes indeed, I posted a link to this new Washingtology thingee. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, though it was my idea, at first, and kind of took off under the guidance of other folks.

LIT, in response to your very smart comment: Yeah, BP may be odoriferous, but there all lots of ordinary folks who are working on this response and trying to fix things, and the ROV operators are case in point. They dont work for BP, they work for Oceaneering, and BP is their client. They spend hours joysticking these robots and doing very difficult stuff in what is harder than a video game because, for example, bolts don't come loose the way you'd like them to.

fyi, I'm heading to Aspen of all places, for this Aspen Environmental Forum...Will try to post pictures of pretty mountains and such.....

Posted by: joelache | July 23, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

New Kit! New feature, section, something!

Posted by: seasea1 | July 23, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

seasea, Joel scooped ya! Of course, he had inside info.)

Posted by: Bob-S | July 23, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

And of course, DNA_Girl scooped both of you, quite charmingly!

Posted by: Bob-S | July 23, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

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