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Capsized oil rig leaves 14 dead, 39 missing in frigid Sea of Okhotsk

- Associated Press - Monday, December 19, 2011

MOSCOW — Time appeared to be running out to rescue 39 people still missing more than a day after an oil rig capsized and sank in stormy, freezing waters off the eastern coast of Russia.

The owner of the rig said life rafts with people aboard were spotted in the Sea of Okhotsk, but the government would not confirm the report. The chances of survival in the 33.9 degree Fahrenheit water appeared slim.

Of the 67 men aboard, 14 were plucked alive from the icy water immediately after the accident and taken to a hospital.

Workers have since pulled 10 bodies from the Sea of Okhotsk, and four more bodies haven't been retrieved, the Emergencies Ministry said.

The Kolskaya floating platform was being towed back to port in a fierce storm when a strong wave broke some of its equipment and portholes in the crew's dining room, and it started sinking in the choppy water.

One of the survivors, Sergei Grauman, said on Russian state television that the platform's portholes were smashed in a second and the crew struggled to fix them.

"Everyone rushed to the deck," he told the First Channel station. "It all felt like a movie."

An official at the rig's owner, Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka, told the Associated Press that rescue vessels spotted four rafts with people aboard, but it was not clear whether they were alive.

The official asked not to be named because the offshore oil exploration firm is not authorized to comment on the rescue operation.

The Emergencies Ministry and military officials would not confirm that rafts were found, but said four vessels, one helicopter and one airplane were searching for survivors.

Helicopter views from the area on NTV television showed nothing floating on the partly iced-over sea.

Russia is the world's largest natural gas exporter and second-largest oil exporter, and hydrocarbons are Russia's key export commodity. It produces most of its oil onshore and hasn't had any significant oil platform accidents in recent years.

The platform - 226 feet long and 262 feet wide - was built in Finland in 1985. It recently performed some work for Russian energy giant Gazprom.

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