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18/11/2012: "I Am Alive and in Good Health," Filipino Injured in Louisiana Oil Rig Fire Wants Kin in PH to Know

18 November 2012
Updated 1715H EST

WASHINGTON, D.C.—“To my relatives, to my family, and to my country, I am alive and in good health. I am burned, but my heart and lungs are healthy.”

This was what Wilberto Ilagan, one of four Filipino workers being treated for serious burns they sustained in last Friday’s oil platform explosion and fire in the Gulf of Mexico, asked his doctors to convey to the public today after he was earlier erroneously reported to have perished in the incident.

Reports reaching the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. said the 50-year old Ilagan has been moved out of the serious list at the Regional Burn Unit of the Baton Rouge General Hospital in Louisiana where he and three other Filipinos were evacuated following the incident that claimed the life of a Filipino co-worker and left another missing.

A statement released by the hospital, a copy of which was furnished the Embassy, said two of the four Filipino patients remain in critical condition while another is in serious condition.  Ilagan, on the other hand, has demonstrated progress and is in fair condition.

The hospital said the four patients are considered to have major burns and remain in the critical window of time that follows major burn injuries and are continuing on normal courses of treatment. They are under the care of a team of specialists led by Dr. Flip Roberts, Chief Medical Officer, and Dr. Jeffrey Littleton, Burn Surgeon and Chair of the Department of Surgery.

It was during a conversation with Dr. Littleton that Ilagan requested that his condition be made known to his relatives and countrymen in the Philippines.

The Embassy, through the Philippine Overseas Labor Office under Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla, was also able to talk briefly to Ilagan on Saturday night. It was the Embassy that informed him that he was earlier erroneously reported to have died in the incident that burned 35 percent of his body.

This developed as Philippine officials arrived in Louisiana to assist Ilagan and the other Filipinos who figured in last Friday’s explosion and fire that hit their oil platform located 25 miles offshore.

Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said Deputy Consul General Orontes Castro Jr. of the Philippine Consulate General in Chicago and Welfare Officer Saul de Vries and Assistant Labor Officer Oliver Flores of the Embassy in Washington D.C. flew into New Orleans on Sunday afternoon (Monday morning in Manila) to also attend to the remains of the lone Filipino fatality and to monitor the search for a missing worker.

“Our officials are now on the ground in New Orleans and will soon be on their way to Baton Rouge to extend the necessary assistance to the affected workers,” Ambassador Cuisia said.

According to the envoy, the three officials will meet with doctors at Baton Rouge General Hospital, three other Filipino workers who survived the explosion and fire and representatives of their employer, Gulf Isle Shipyard Inc., and the platform owner Black Elk Energy.

Ambassador Cuisia had earlier requested US authorities to resume their search efforts for the missing Filipino worker after the US Coast Guard called these off on Saturday evening following a 32-hour operation. The Pentagon, however, informed the Office of the Defense and Armed Forces Attache, under Brig. Gen. Cesar Yano, that the US Coast Guard still has assets that are monitoring the situation in the area.

“We know that it has been more than 48 hours but we Filipinos always believe in miracles and we continue to pray that our other kababayan will be found alive,” Ambassador Cuisia said.

Officials of Black Elk Energy were also reported to have said that their divers will continue their search for the missing Filipino worker, who was one of two initially unaccounted for following the explosion and fire that struck their oil platform.

Black Elk Energy divers were the ones who later recovered a body in waters near the platform that the Embassy later confirmed as belonging to one of the missing Filipinos.

The Embassy said the identification of the body was made by officials of Grand Isle Shipyard shortly after it was brought ashore late Saturday night. The information was immediately conveyed to the Embassy.

The Embassy said there were nine Filipinos working on the oil platform at the time of the incident but it could not immediately confirm whether the three who were not reported missing or injured suffered minor injuries or were unhurt.

The nine Filipinos who figured in the incident are believed to be among an estimated 162 welders, fitters, scaffolders and riggers who were hired in the Philippines to work in offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. ###