At a somber news conference Wednesday, state police and officials from two well companies acknowledged what the colleagues, friends and family of a missing contractor had feared for eight days: that he likely died during an explosion at a well in Greene County that he was working on last week.
State police said during a search earlier Wednesday they recovered what appear to be the remains of Ian McKee, 27, a Cameron International field service technician. Bones were found between a charred crane and a tank on the well pad, roughly where Mr. McKee's coworkers told investigators they last saw him before the blast.
"We did not find an actual physical body," said state police spokeswoman Trooper Stefani Plume. "We just found remains there at the scene."
Investigators said the remains have been taken to the Greene County coroner's office, where they hope to identify them as Mr. McKee's.
Adam Nightingale, Cameron's vice president of human resources, said Mr. McKee, who is originally from Warren, lived most recently in Morgantown with his fiancee, who is pregnant with his child and is due in July.
Samuel Davis, a New Jersey attorney representing Danielle Desposito and Mr. McKee's estate, said Wednesday night that the couple, together five years, had planned to buy a home and get married.
"This has been a very difficult day in an [extremely] horrific week" for the family, said Mr. Davis, the family spokesman. "She was in a way comforted that they would be able to have a funeral with some recovered part of Ian, and on the other side, the finding ... brought a degree of finality.
"The hope that Ian will come from work no longer exists."
Stefan Radwanski, vice president and general manager of Cameron's surface systems division, said the company has been in regular contact with the McKee family and will continue to provide for their needs.
"All of us at Cameron are deeply saddened by this incident and our thoughts and prayers are with Ian McKee's family," he said.
Mr. McKee was working on the well with a crew of 19 other contractors on Feb. 11 when it exploded, igniting flames that were fed by leaking natural gas for five days before they finally extinguished themselves. Everyone else managed to escape the blast, with just one other employee suffering a minor injury.
Investigators finally got to look on the well pad for Mr. McKee eight days after the blast because experts from Wild Well Control of Houston finally were able to pull a charred crane off the well pad that was nearest to the still-leaking wells, said Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection deputy secretary.
That came after Wild Well finished installing a fire suppression system to constantly douse the well heads, helping to keep the natural gas from building up on site and minimizing the potential for an explosion. The company also installed tube "diverters" onto the two leaking well heads to direct the natural gas away from the well pad.
Mr. Perry said Wild Well still has to stage all the necessary equipment before the well heads can be capped, a process that could take at least another two days.
Molly Born: email@example.com. Sean D. Hamill: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published February 19, 2014 12:57 PM