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Body found at scene of oil platform explosion in Gulf of Mexico, Coast Guard says

In this aerial photograph, a supply vessel moves near an oil rig damaged by an explosion and fire on Friday in the Gulf of Mexico about 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La.
In this aerial photograph, a supply vessel moves near an oil rig damaged by an explosion and fire on Friday in the Gulf of Mexico about 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La.Gerald Herbert / AP

Updated at 5:40 a.m. ET: Divers found a body Saturday evening below the oil platform that caught fire after an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard and an official of the company that owns the rig said.

Black Elk Energy President and CEO John Hoffman told reporters in Houston that a body was spotted on the sea floor by a dive team hired by the company to supplement the Coast Guard search for two workers missing after an explosion and fire wracked the rig on Friday.

"Divers will continue to search for the second missing worker," Hoffman wrote in an email. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families." 

Hoffman said the body was found close to the leg of the platform, near where the explosion occurred, in about 30 feet of water. He said the missing men were employees of oilfield contractor Grand Isle Shipyard. 

Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Vega told The Associated Press that the Coast Guard was turning over the remains to local authorities.

Earlier Saturday, the Coast Guard called off the search for the two workers. Three helicopter crews, a Coast Guard cutter and a fixed-wing aircraft crew had searched a 1,400-square-mile area around the platform, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Coast Guard searches for 2 missing after Gulf oil rig blast

Coast Guard Capt. Peter Gautier said initial reports suggested that the explosion occurred when maintenance workers using a torch cut into a pipe with oil inside. Twenty-two people were on board the rig when the fire broke out and unleashed a black plume of smoke. Eleven workers were evacuated and nine others were taken by helicopter to hospitals.

Four workers airlifted to Louisiana's West Jefferson Medical Center suffered second- and third-degree burns to large parts of their bodies, said Taslin Alfonzo, a hospital spokeswoman.

The incident occurred a day after oil giant BP agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill that killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil.

Since the Black Elk-operated rig was offline at the time of the fire, there was little risk of a major oil spill, officials said.

The platform sits in 56 feet of water some 17 miles south of Grand Isle, La., and production had been shut down since mid-August, Black Elk said.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which enforces offshore drilling regulations, is investigating the fire.

The fire was extinguished a few hours after the blast and Coast Guard Capt. Ed Cubanski told reporters that the platform appeared to be structurally sound. Twenty-two people had been aboard the rig at the time of the accident.

The platform is a shallow-water production platform, unlike BP's Macondo well, which blew out in 2010 in mile-deep water. The Macondo explosion killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The owner of the platform is Houston-based Black Elk Energy. On its website, the company stated that this month it was starting to drill the first of 23 new wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last Sunday, The Houston Chronicle named Black Elk Energy one of the top small businesses to work for in Houston based on employee surveys.

In August, the oil and gas company was named one of the fastest-growing privately held companies by Inc. Magazine. 

NBC News' Justin Kirschner contributed to this report, which contains information from Reuters.

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