Nightly News   |  April 22, 2010

Oil rig sinks

Coast Guard officials assessed the environmental damage from an exploded oil rig that sunk into the Gulf of Mexico Thursday as rescue crews continued to search for 11 missing oil workers. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

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>>> news" begins now.

>>> good evening. it was a spectacular explosion, a massive fire and genuine human tragedy involving 11 missing men. tonight, the oil platform that was on fire off the coast of louisiana is gone. it sank today into the waters of the gulf of mexico , and the first thing a lot of people thought about was all that oil. this can't be good for the environment. it's where we start off tonight with nbc's ron mott. ron , good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening to you. we are at the naval air station just outside new orleans which are headquarters for the coast guard operation. they are looking at this as a search and rescue mission, but they are acknowledging they are reaching the tail end of the search for survivors. this morning, the fire that's raged out of control since tuesday night's explosion claimed what was left of the deepwater horizon in yet another explosion as the suspended rig which isn't anchored to the ocean floor sank beneath the surface of the gulf. the air search for 11 missing oil rig workers resumed at daybreak, with choppers rejoining a pair of coast guard cutters that stayed on the water oversight looking for any signs of life . the search covered 3,000 square miles .

>> based upon reports from our crew members we met as they came in last night, at the time of the incident, they believe they may have been onboard the rig and not able to evacuate. we haven't confirmed that yet and search and rescue efforts are continuing.

>> reporter: the first coast guard crew to arrive at the drilling platform described an apocalyptic scene.

>> the rig fully engulfed, flames 350 feet in the air and life boats on fire. it was surreal.

>> reporter: of the 126 crew onboard, 115 made it to rescue vessels.

>> we know that 115 people are safe and that's a tribute to the efforts of the rescue services and some of the crew members on board the rig.

>> reporter: now, officials will turn their attention to anien vifrmtal impacts, whether a well 18,000 feet below the surface is still leaking crude, and what happened to a tank aboard the rig holding 700,000 gallons of diesel.

>> right now we do not have evidence there is any crude emanating from the subsurface well head . what we have on the surface is residual from the explosion, fire and things that we are going on yesterday.

>> reporter: a company official said the exact cause of the initial blast remains under investigation, adding it appears to be a blowout, where oil or gas pressure overwhelms the drilling equipment. tonight the president is being briefed at the white house on the situation in the gulf, this as the search for the 11 missing men continue, and the possibility of all that oil that may be leaking under the surface of the water, brian.

>> ron mott from bell chase, louisiana tonight. thanks.

>>> here in new york today,