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. Jeff

    I first started commenting on news stories and participating in these discussions about a week ago. Up to this crisis, I guess I never thought to do it. I've tracked and commented in several discussions on CNN throughout the course of this week. I've really valued reading other people's thoughts and opinions. But, like everyone in this discussion, I tend to agree with certain perspectives more than others. Regardless, I think it's great that people with multiple perspectives are voicing their thoughts and opinions through these discussions.

    So, I've been making comments on CNN, MSNBC, and USATODAY websites. Whenever I make a comment and hit the "submit" button, my comments usually show up within a minute in the discussion. But, when I've tried to do the same thing on FOXNews.Com, my comments never showed up once! I'm laughing now as I write this. And at the same time I'm shaking my head. That's hilarious and sad at the same time. Most of my comments are not even partisan in nature!

    I just had to share that. Keep the ideas and opinions rolling! And thanks to CNN for providing an unedited discussion board.

    May 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. chemeng

    TY, Mr. Gruters – esp for pointing out the use of dispersants on the oil in the Gulf..& these are supposedly chem engineers working for BP that came up w/that "solution"? oy.

    i'd like to know: why didn't the EPA & the Energy Secretaries step up to the plate – where've they been for over a week now? & why the heck bring the war-veteran-hating Napolitano ("FEMA") prematurely into the mix – as ineffectual a response as any Administration has attempted in modern history....were Obama's next words gonna be: "i've got it all under control" like Michael Brown did?

    May 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. chemeng

    & Mr Gruters – your suggestion to use a missile to stop the leak has been echoed on other can only surmise that BP has lost its mind, & is still thinking in terms oil production from this catastrophe instead of ending the catastrophe & mitigating its damaging effects on the environment & impact on regional economies.

    May 8, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff

    I agree with several comments on this page. In particuar, Suzie (#3) and Bluejeans8 (Post #15 in particular), I agree that our response to this crisis should be more action-oriented than politcal at this point in time. Gulf residents and engaged US citizens around the country should want to see the Obama admiinstration do everything in its power to help stop the leak and capture as much oil as possible, regardless of their political affiliation. Most of my posts over the last few days were based on my concern that not enough is being done by BP, by the Obama administration, and by the joint task force ( ). And Bluejeans8, I unfortunately believe you are correct in your post #8. Whatever the joint command needs, the Obama admiinistration needs to ensure they get all the resources they need.

    Bluejeans8, I agree with your comments in Post #8 . A lot of US citizens are not going to care about ths crisis until they're served Gulf shrimp sauteed in crude oil and dispersant, rather than olive oil and garlic.

    May 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ericson

    Sharks swimming through the oil....

    Flaming sharks: Jaws is Back, and you're his barbecue

    May 8, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 4mothernature

    This oil spill is our Chernobyl of the Sea. Not fit to live in for sea life, contaminating everything that will be exposed to the oil or the chemicals being used to 'clean' this up. The mismanagement of this project is insulting to our intelligence. I do wonder, however, at our seeming lack of concern. I keep watching CNN to see what is being done, what NEW EXPERT (someone REALLY capable of fixing the spill once and for all) has been sought to TAKE OVER THE PROJECT already at hand. NO? There isn't anybody? Could we hear just a few hundred more times about that stupid thermos left out and scaring everybody about possibly being a bomb, then, because THAT'S important news. Shame on CNN for lack of inspiration, Shame on BP for not handing the reigns over to someone that CAN stop the leak, DOES CARE about the world we live in and WILL get the job done expediently. Perhaps we can call Nancy Grace, known for gathering EXPERTS for EXPERT OPINIONS. Do we have someone like that at CNN to push these REAL NEWS CATASTROPHIES TO THE FOREFRONT? SOMEONE to be our voice of anger and representing the underdog? The oceans will never be the same. Shame on us.

    May 8, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. 4mothernature

    I would like to make tonight's menu;
    Chicken Savored in Bird Flu
    Beef Infused with Mad Cow Disease
    Spinach and Romaine Salad with Drizzled EColi
    Tuna made Hearty with Mercury
    and all Sea Life from the gulf prepacked in Motoroil...
    What will they have us eating for dessert?

    May 8, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bridgett

    It should never have been a question of how do we contain the spill? Safety measures should have been in place to take care of a spill of this kind or any other, that are proven to work in the depth the rig is in to protect the environment. The question is why weren't they in place?

    May 8, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Robert

    Why can't they just drop a grenade or dynamite near the opening? Or shoot a missle or similar into the hole. I bet that would stop it!

    May 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Esperanza

    Point blank: This is a National Emergency. This is far more dangerous than Iraq ever was!!!
    Obama and the industry need to be calling in EVERY EXPERT in the WORLD on this NOW, as in yesterday!! BP Engineers are incompetent, slow, and vastly overpaid... Every MIT genius, engineering professor, AND every environmental scientist NEEDS TO WORK ON THIS ASAP!!! This will blowout the food chain for us all!!! It could trip a mass extinction that would look like a lethal form of dominoes... Frankly, there is no amount of $ money to compensate the world for this damage. EVERY OIL COMPANY & KNOWLEDGE BASE NEEDS TO ATTACK & EXECUTE A SOLUTION NOW, as if their life depend on it!

    May 8, 2010 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hun Cho

    British OIl Giant BP is entirely responsible for this environmental chaos because the management should have had better safety procedures, and greater care and attention in effect to be prepared and ready to act for emergenget cases like this incident; But it's easier said than be observed perfectly, since accidents do occur even if they do practice safety precautions. America is certainly well-prepared, and advanced country, but at this point, there is not mucu magic solutions to solve this disaster with easy hand.

    May 9, 2010 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. Teresa

    Why? Haven't they just plugged up the Hole. Why? still do more damage buy trying to suck it up
    and sell it rite back to us. Are they that greedy! America should be moving away from our toxic
    habbit. America should be smarter than this but were still in the stone age. And our greed & stupidity will be our own destruction. We should have more affordable eco friendly tool @ our disposal. And Obama isnt doing enough to put pressure on B.P Giant every one is down playing this
    huge huge screw up by B.P Giant. Maybe one day we can all injoy this world without trying to destroy it. And i would also like to ask CNN if they can actually post real news instead of what tigger woody or octo mom is up too or what ever Jersy shore been dowin this weekend ......
    SCEW UP!!!!!! =( IM sad that reporters now a days ESERT TRASH all day!
    GO GET UR own NEWS ....... DONT STEAL it FROM SHOWBIZ 2NITE! ;( Shame ON U .......

    May 9, 2010 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kenneth Howald

    This is the link to the MSDS (Mine Safety Data Sheet) on the hazards of the Corexit 9500 which is the dispersant being used by BP to disperse the oil in the Gulf. BP has purchased one-third of the world's stock of this chemical dispersant.

    Please note the statement "do not use on surface waters" this means that this product is toxic to marine life what in the hell don't we get get do they think stepping out of the pan into the fire will be cooler??????

    May 10, 2010 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. David Salverson

    So BP will pay for everything in the last 2 weeks gas prices have gone up 7 cent,guess who's paying WE ARE it will keep going up and all the oil company's will profit off this disaster including BP.
    Does BP stand for Big Polluter ?

    May 10, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  15. shawn T

    Lord help us, what have we done...

    May 10, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
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