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Rescue crews endure hazardous recovery mission after Kerr Dam explosion

Dam recovery mission details
Posted at 10:47 PM, May 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-14 23:50:18-04

SALINA, Okla. — Two out-of-state contractors were killed after an explosion at Kerr Dam on Lake Hudson near Salina, Oklahoma. The recovery mission for their bodies was hazardous for rescue crews.

“At the end of the day, we accomplished what we were trying to do," said Terry Sivadon, rescue coordinator for the Tulsa Fire Department.

Sivadon told 2 News his team was called to assist first responders at Kerr Dam around 6 p.m. Thursday night. When they arrived, Sivadon said, they quickly discovered it had become a recovery operation.

"Once we found out that it was going to be a body recovery, we slowed down and monitored the methane gas and started the ventilation process," he said.

"They were requesting the hazmat truck," Claremore Deputy Fire Chief Matt Wilson said.

Investigators with the Grand River Dam Authority reported a pocket of natural gas passed through while the three contractors were core drilling. Wilson told 2 News it was methane. Monitor readings showed the flammable gas lingered around the entry point to recover the two bodies.

"We were trying to make sure that the air was evacuated in the confined space before anybody else went back down," Wilson said.

Wilson and his team monitored lower explosive limit levels, which are combustible chemical mixtures, to determine when it was safe for rescue crews to move.

Since the crews were 80 feet above the contractors, Wilson said, they were forced to use an exhaust pipe at the entry point to shoot the flammable gas 20 feet up, and fasten a monitor to a rope to lower the rest of the way to get accurate readings.

Wilson said if those numbers are not near zero percent, there is risk for another explosion when crews move in for recovery.

"The exact it did to the guys that were in there," he said.

In order to get rid of all the hazardous gas, Wilson said they used a fan to pump fresh air into the close-quartered cabin and set up an exhaust on the other end to shoot that gas out. The ventilation setup, plus far proximity from the recovery point, is why Wilson said, it took several hours to ensure it was safe enough to go in and recover the bodies.


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