May 7th, 2010
05:50 PM ET

Flying over the Gulf Coast slick

CNN's Patrick Oppmann surveyed the oil spill while aboard a Coast Guard flight.

Hanging out the back of a Coast Guard plane, 1,000 feet over the source of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I am hit by the almost overpowering smell of gasoline.

Even at the height and speed that the Coast Guard HC-144A “Ocean Sentry” travels, the smell from the environmental disaster unfolding below is beyond noxious.

In the distance a black plume of acrid smoke rises from a controlled oil burn. I wonder what the fumes are like at sea level , where a small army of workers is trying to stop the estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day pouring into the Gulf.

I am on the plane at the invitation of the Coast Guard, which has taken media out on regular flights to see the gathering pollution off the Gulf Coast.

Lt. Rene Baez pilots many of those flights and from the cockpit points out to me the thick orange bands of sludge that increase the farther out we fly. “That’s all pollution,” Baez said, motioning to the water. “It’s getting worse.”

Then Baez tells me they are going to lower the ramp at the rear of the plane and tether us in so the reporters can hang out of the aircraft to get a better view. I am not sure if he is having a joke, but then, I see the ramp slowly lower and air rushes into the cabin.

From the edge of the ramp, wind screams by me and below I can see the huge white dome that will soon be lowered into the water to try to cap the leaking oil.

Shooting video of moving boats from an open moving plane is a challenge. When the Coast Guardsman keeping an eye over me taps me to crawl back into the cabin, I go hoping I got the shots I wanted.

On the way back we pass over the Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana. The bright orange pollution is visible near the shore. Some of it is being held back by protective booms, but in other spots it travels freely across the Gulf.

One of the guardsmen spots a school of sharks swimming through the contaminated water.  

The plane turns to take us back to Mobile, Alabama, leaving, at least for the moment, the spill behind us.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Ladii Smoochez

    Wow! Now How Tha F*k Dey Fix Dat?? All Dat Oil N Den Dey Got Dis Dome Ish Dat We All Kno Isnt Gonna Work;

    May 8, 2010 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. Juan Reyes

    How can it be that we are the worlds number one nation and we are not prepair in case of a situation like this the worse oil desaater in history,why alowe careless people to drill for oil because they fill like it in just any place with any reguard and no Safety precautions and save guards in place, why and who is responsible for this kind of situation who is suppost to be in charge ?
    At the end is not the multy millionars is regular people like you and me who paids, why then don't they have responsible and qualifide people that do cares for this only world that we have.
    Where is that responsabilities of thes Suprime powers lets get it together no?
    " this is only my opinion"
    Juan Reyes.

    May 8, 2010 at 6:06 am | Report abuse |
  3. Suzie

    Why doesn't President Obama and the rest of the nation put all of our resources into stopping this horrific oil spill before it reaches our beautiful beaches and kills our wildlife, our tourism and much of the nations source of seafood? This problem, seemingly only threatening those of us who live on the gulf coast, will have a lasting effect for many many people for many many years should it reach the shore. We need to hurry and do something before it happens!!! Its 2010 for crying out loud! We can put a man on the moon, we can stop this with help from our government!! So President Obama, where are you when we need you???? Please help us now before its too late!!!

    May 8, 2010 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mark

    I guess I was expecting too much from CNN !
    I thought this was gonna show more of the oil in the gulf.
    Think I'll go mow my lawn.

    May 8, 2010 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. Pray4Justice

    This is exactly the catastrophy I am talking about. How big is this thing? The Gulf of Mexico will never be the same! Why aren't more people outraged by this? How are we going to survive this? Is human life so invaluable that we just allow companies like BP to make decisions which can impact an entire nation and its people? Shame on our government for not safeguarding a project like this better.

    May 8, 2010 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. michael nyc

    hello world

    dome is not necessary and wasting time – oil floats to surface and can be pumped into takers/barges –

    employ a floatation of existing tankers/barges starting at epicenter of shaft leak to recover (pump skim off surface oil)

    possible "stop leak" would be explosion deep in old shaft using a missile

    thank you

    Michael Gruters – former faculty physics Princeton late 60'

    p.s. the use of dispersing chemicals make surface removal impossible and poisons the sea – really stupid....

    May 8, 2010 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bluejeans8

    People will start caring when this mess washes up on the sands of Palm Beach and Boca Raton. By then it'll be too late for our coral reef system in the Keys.

    May 8, 2010 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  8. Michael

    I don't know if anyone remembers....but Dick Cheney used to be president of a little company called Haliburton before he became Vice President of this country. While Dick was in office, he vetoed a Democratic motion to put more safety valves on underwater drilling. Haliburton was one of the companies that built this drilling platform that exploded. Meanwhile, Haliburton won hundreds of billions of dollars worth of contracts during the Iraq war. This is so ridiculous I can't believe no one is calling Cheney to the table to take some responsibility. He may be the single worst political leader this country has ever had. A poster for Greed should have his photo. It's worst than a Hollywood plot!

    May 8, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. Nick

    I think president Obama made the first comment if anyone is wondering. The president doesnt want anything to do with this just like the floods in tennasee... Wonder if the "health plan" will cover this?

    May 8, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  10. Eduardo

    BP and oil companies do not care at all. They say and pray to god they do but we and them know they do not. They only develop drilling and sucking oil tech but nothing to stop licks. The iron dome built is ridiculous and is the best they can think of? BP makes well above 50 billion a year of NET profit and all they come is with this idea. I bet they are only thinking on how to stop the lick without affecting their chances to keep on sucking oil from that well instead of blowing it and covering rocks or whatever.

    May 8, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. Lovely_Lisa

    MSNBC reported yesterday, that Dick Cheney reversed the rules established by the Mineral Management Service (MMS) in 2001 to require remote deadman switches on all US wells. The MMS called these switches critical only costing 500k each to purchase and install. So while every other country has these switches to shutoff a well if the manual switch fails, we do not. Had we had one, the well would have been automatically shutoff when the rig exploded. Evidently, lawyers for plaintiffs in the lawsuits against BP a few years ago tried to subpoena the record of the meeting with Cheney where the outcome was to reverse the rule and not require this automatic switch. Justice Scalia denied the request, claiming that Cheney had Executive Privilege. So, the gifts of Dick Cheney just keep giving. And I swear, these guys must buy each other steak dinners every week, because Cheney just keeps weaseling his way out of every unethical and potentially illegal act he has committed. I hope this guy ends up in jail, just like his buddies Ken Lay, Skilling, and numerous others. Though, I would bet that even if he was convicted, he would pull a pathetic stunt at the sentencing like he did at the inauguration, where he showed up in a wheelchair. The guy is mental!

    May 8, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. txkellygirl

    Actually, the Deepwater Horizon had a deadman. The BOP still did not close. No other device (acoustic etc....) would have closed it either. You are all mentioning another "button" and fail to realize that the buttons worked, but the valve could not close. Oh, and it tested perfectly hours before from interviews with survivors. It's possible the gas explosion/pressure forced the casing up into the BOP making it impossible to close.....a once in a billion chance. You have to look at the cause of the pressure build up (a series of events gone wrong with the cement job to turn from exploration to production) and then what may have happened in that process to jam the bOP. In light of the new information we can move forward to put in additional safely measure or contingency plans. People...realize we've been drilling for 40 years without anything like this.. Drilling this deep is new and the industry really does value it's people over anything else. It's a horrible price we are paying to learn, and I know the cost is high. At the same time, we dump twice as much oil down the drain than all the historic oils spills combined showing you that as a nation we don't care nearly as much as we like to believe...sad.

    May 8, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. sharkvc

    Regardless of our politicos lack of sound decision making, the sad fact remains that the damage has been done and will continue being done FOREVER! This can't be undone as some would hope that you believe. Just because we won't be able to see it everyday or because it's not a topic of the major news stations doesn't mean it's gone.

    May 8, 2010 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bluejeans8

    GOOD GRIEF! Could we please back off the Dems versus Repubs game for just a gd minute and focus on the health of the environment? First of all, 11 PEOPLE LOST THEIR LIVES. Show a little respect. Second of all, the economy and the health of all the Gulf states is at risk. Go find a health care blog or something if you don't really care about this.

    May 8, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  15. Bluejeans8

    In my opinion, we don't need drilling to stop. We do need some very careful studies conducted by independent scientists to give us some indication whether we'll ever be able to manage offshore drilling. And again – the Gulf states' economy is in dire straits already. Plus, we use this oil for our cars. You don't want oil – then get rid of your vehicle. It really is as simple as that. Walk. Buy a horse. Ride a bike. And be quiet.

    May 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
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