David Hammer / Eyewitness News
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NEWORLEANS - Portions of the Hercules drilling rig that is on fire in the Gulf of Mexico started to collapse Wednesday.

The parts of the Hercules 265 rig that stick out over the Walter Oil & Gas platform and wellhead have been melting and falling, but the integrity of the massive post-like legs and the permanent platform itself appear to still be strong, Walter Oil & Gas spokesman Brian Kennedy said.

Walter is hiring a jack-up rig to start drilling a relief well at the site. The jack-up rig will be towed in next to the Hercules drilling rig, where it will start drilling a relief well into the Gulf of Mexico to intercept Hercules' well.

The federal offshore safety agency reported that beams supporting the derrick and rig floor on the Hercules have folded and collapsed.

The Hercules rig is a moveable jack-up rig in 154 feet of water, which was hired by Walter Oil & Gas to drill the well southwest of Grand Isle. The jack-up rig is cantilevered above a permanent structure owned by Walter.

Two firefighting vessels had to back away from the fire before dawn, and the Coast Guard had two firefighting vessels arriving on the scene around midday Wednesday.

Walter spokesman Tim O'Leary said they are still investigating what went wrong Tuesday when natural gas blew out of the well, forcing all 44 workers onboard to evacuate. The blowout preventer did not shut in the well, but it's unclear why. After working most of the day to try to shut in the gas unsuccessfully, the rig caught fire around 10:45 p.m. Tuesday.

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