Two locals still missing in oil well explosion

Published 4:19 pm Thursday, April 22, 2010

NATCHEZ — Two local men, Wyatt Kemp of Monterey and Karl Kleppinger of Natchez, remain missing following the massive oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night.

Kleppinger has been confirmed as one of the 11 missing crewmembers from the well, his brother-in-law Matthew Sudduth said.

“We found out last night when they took a count of everybody on the boat coming out into (Port) Fourchon,” Sudduth said.

The uninjured survivors of the explosion were taken to Port Fourchon before being reunited with their families in Kenner.

The family is waiting at home to hear further news about Kleppinger, a 38-year-old family man with one son, Sudduth said.

“It has been very hard,” he said. “Knowing one way or the other would be almost better than waiting. It is pretty bad.”

Sudduth described Kleppinger as a “very, very good man.”

“He cared very much for his wife and his son, and for all his extended family,” Sudduth said. “He was a good person and a pleasure to be around.”

Kemp’s wife Courtney said it has been confirmed that the 11 missing men were working on the part of the rig where the explosion happened, and she has been told it was a major possibility the men did not get off the well.

Family and friends have surrounded her in a show of support, but the wait for answers has been torture, Courtney Kemp said.

“It has been a nightmare,” she said. “The days go so slow.”

At first, she kept calling the hotline set up for family members only to be told that no one really knew anything.

“You are still in limbo as to where your family is, whether they are one of the safe ones, one of the burned ones or one of the missing ones,” she said. “I didn’t find out he was one of the missing ones until 2 p.m. (Wednesday).”

Kemp, 27, has two children, 3-year-old Kaylee and 3-month-old Maddison, and he loved them dearly, Courtney Kemp said.

“They had him wrapped around their fingers,” she said.

“He was a Christian, he believed in the Lord with all his heart, he was a wonderful husband and my best friend.”

Two other local men, Chad Murray of Lake St. John and Wyman Wheeler of Monterey, escaped the blast without life-threatening injuries.

Wheeler and Wyatt Kemp were partners who drove back and forth to work, Courtney Kemp said.

Located approximately 41 miles offshore, the rig exploded at 10 p.m. Tuesday night. Seventeen people received injuries, four of them injured critically.

Nearly 100 other crewmembers escaped the blast without injury.

The rig, which is nearly the size of two football fields, reportedly sank into the gulf Thursday.