Gulf of Mexico oil rig incident claims life of Hope man

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 3:30pm

    GULF OF MEXICO — A Hope family, and the community they are a big part of, are all in mourning with news that the man killed Tuesday on a drilling ship in the Gulf of Mexico was 34-year-old Sam Whitley.

    Whitley lived in Hope with his wife, Stacy, and their three children. Stacy's mother, June Brown, confirmed his death to

    She said that Stacy traveled to Louisiana this morning, to learn more information, and that the family had not been given many details about what happened and how Sam died.

    The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Tuesday it was responding to the report of the fatality on the drilling ship Pacific Santa Ana. The vessel was located in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 200 miles south of Lake Charles, La., in 4,800 feet of water when the accident occurred.

    In a statement, the Bureau said that the operator notified the agency that the operations of the drilling ship had been shut down. They also said there were no other injuries reported, and personnel remained on board. There was also no reported pollution, according to the Bureau.

    "BSEE and U. S. Coast Guard inspectors traveled to the drillship [Tuesday] afternoon and have begun collecting evidence and taking statements. The incident will be investigated by both BSEE and the U. S. Coast Guard.," the statement said.

    BSEE media spokesperson Eileen Angelico said Wednesday that Chevron was the operator of the drilling ship, and that they contracted Pacific Drilling for the rig and crew.

    She said that the BSEE would not be providing regular updates about its investigation, like the updates being provided by the National Transportation Safety Board about the Oct. 1 sinking of El Faro off the Bahamas.

    "The only update will be the announcement that we have formally opened the investigation, because it's not considered an ongoing event," said Angelico.

    June Brown said that her son-in-law was due back home in two weeks. He began working on the ship in January, and was previously a self-employed roofer and carpenter, according to friends.

    She said that her daughter has been handling the news well, "off and on, as can be expected."

    The Whitley's three children are students at Hope Elementary School, which sent out a notice to the school community Oct. 21 offering condolences and support.

    Brown said that the outpouring of community support has been "unfathomable."

    "It has been hard to fathom the outpouring of help that has come forward," said Brown. "It's been crazy and I can't even believe it's happening like this. The community really loved him and everybody has really rallied."

    She said that an online food train has been set up to bring daily meals to the family, that people have helped with some basement needs and propane has been donated. She also said that three wood splitters are planned to be set up at the house this weekend.

    "He had so much planned that he was going to do when he got home in two weeks," said Brown, trying hard to contain her emotions. "I can feel now for people that have had this happen, it's horrifying."

    According to maritime and offshore news website, Pacific Santa Ana is on a five-year contract with Chevron, ending in May 2017.

    Pacific Drilling's Pacific Santa Ana is a Samsung 12000 design, capable of operating in a depth of 12,000 feet. It can accommodate 200 people and is equipped for a 35,000-feet drilling depth. Construction was completed on the vessel in 2011.

    In a statement, Chevron officials said, “At the time of the incident, the Pacific Santa Ana drillship was located on the Chevron-operated Keathley Canyon Block No. 96. Our thoughts and prayers are with the contractor's family, friends and colleagues.”

    Ship’s owner Pacific Drilling said in a statement that the company is actively addressing the needs of Whitely’s family and the affected employees.

    “Our prayers and thoughts are with the family of our colleague and our Pacific Drilling family closely associated with him,” said Pacific Drilling officials.

    A page has been set up for the Whitley family here.

    Reach Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards at and 207-706-6655.