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Crews work to extinguish a fire Wednesday at the Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana, following an explosion on the offshore drilling platform. Eleven workers are still missing following the blast.

An explosion rocked an offshore oil drilling platform, sending a column of fire into the sky and touching off a frantic search at sea Wednesday for 11 missing workers.

Most of the 126 workers on the rig Deepwater Horizon escaped safely after the explosion about 10 p.m. Tuesday, the Coast Guard said. Three were critically injured.

The rig, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana’s tip, was still burning Wednesday afternoon. It was tilting about 10 degrees. There was no estimate of when the flames might be out.

Helicopters and boats searched the Gulf of Mexico for any sign of the workers who had not been accounted for.

“We’re hoping everyone’s in a life raft,” Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike O’Berry said.

The Coast Guard said there were 17 workers evacuated by air and sea Wednesday morning but not all required hospital stays. Three were in critical condition, Rear Admiral Mary Landry.

The other 98 workers were being brought in by boat and were expected ashore Wednesday evening.

When the explosion happened, the rig was drilling but was not in production, according to Greg Panagos, spokesman for its owner, Transocean Ltd. in Houston.

The rig was under contract to BP PLC. BP spokesman Darren Beaudo said all BP personnel were safe but he didn’t know how many BP workers had been on the rig.

Adrian Rose, vice president of Transocean, said crews were doing routine work before the explosion and there were no signs of trouble.

Coast Guard environmental teams were on standby in Morgan City, La., to assess any environmental damage once the fire was out.  According to Transocean’s website, the Deepwater Horizon is 396 feet long and 256 feet wide. The semi-submersible rig was built in 2001 by Hyundai Heavy Industries Shipyard in South Korea. The site is known as the Macondo prospect, in 5,000 feet of water.

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