Five people remain unaccounted for following a gas explosion Monday at a drilling rig in Oklahoma.

The explosion happened shortly before 9 a.m. Central time in northeast Pittsburg County, Sheriff Chris Morris said at a news conference. Twenty-two employees were drilling a gas well at the site when the explosion occured; 17 of whom were able to get out safely. One person was flown to a hospital, while others had minor or no injuries, officials said.

Images and videos taken by local media show several fires burning as thick black smoke blanketed the facility. The explosion, which happened near the town of Quinton, about 140 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, sent black smoke to nearby farmlands.

What exactly happened is not yet known. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is investigating the incident and interviewing employees.

Those missing were Josh Ray, 35, Forth Worth, Texas; Matt Smith, 29, McAlester, Okla.; Cody Risk, 26, Wellington, Colo.; Parker Waldridge, 60, Crescent, Okla.; and Roger Cunningham, 55, Seminole, Okla. Three of the men were employees of Houston-based Patterson-UTI Energy Inc., which owns the drilling rig. The company said it has reached out to those people’s families.

“At this moment, no one knows with certainty what happened and it would be unwise to speculate,” the company’s president and chief executive, Andy Hendricks, said in a statement. “Well control experts and emergency responders are on site and we will conduct a thorough investigation when the incident is fully contained.”

Officials said the gas well is operated by another company, Oklahoma City-based Red Mountain Energy, LLC. The company did not return a call Monday.

Fires were still burning by Monday afternoon, though they’re no longer spreading, Kevin Enloe, Pittsburg County’s emergency management director, told reporters. Officials plan to let the fire run its course instead of placing fire crews close to hazardous materials, he said.

“The fire is pretty much containing itself right now,” Enloe said. “There’s some fire that is jumping off location because of the flame size. It’s getting some gas fires started . . . all we’re doing is combating any fire that leaves the location.”

The sheriff’s office also said a nitrous truck will be used to help suppress the fire, the McAlester News-Capital reported.

GAS WELL EXPLOSION: 5 people are missing after a gas well exploded near Quinton, northeast of McAlester in Pittsburg County. Sheriff Chris Morris says 17 people are safe. News On 6 will continue to gather information. Emory Bryan is on the scene and will have updates throughout the day.

Posted by Tess Maune on Monday, January 22, 2018

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