Jimmy Harrell: What Happened to Deepwater Horizon Installation Manager?

Peter Berg’s 2016 drama film, ‘Deepwater Horizon,’ pens a cinematic account of the series of events aboard the titular offshore drilling rig that resulted in the biggest oil spill in American history. The film’s storyline shines a light on the tragedy that washes over the rig’s crew members as massive blowouts set the system on fire, compelling frantic evacuation. Characters such as Andrea and Caleb with on-deck positions during the initial alarm provide a gripping perspective on the event, allowing viewers to understand the high-pressure nature of the disaster.

Meanwhile, individuals with supervisory roles, such as Mark Wahlberg’s Chief Technician Mike Williams and Kurt Russell’s Jimmy Harrell, bestow an authentic understanding of the tale as they helm the narrative. Consequently, Jimmy Harrell’s instrumental role aboard the Deepwater Horizon— both before and during the 2010 disaster— sparks natural curiosity about the real man behind the character.

Who is Jimmy Harrell?

Jimmy Harrell paved his professional path as an offshore worker early in his life, joining the first drilling company in his late teenage years. After working for a few more companies, Harrell finally found Transocean, which continues to be one of the biggest offshore drilling companies in the world. As such, after beginning his employment at Transocean as a floorhand, Harrell rose through the ranks until— a few decades later, he secured a supervisory position at Deepwater Horizon.

In 2004, Harrell was appointed the Installation Manager and became the subsequent leader of the rig. Reportedly, the man was well-respected and liked among his crew for his approachability and competency. Nevertheless, no amount of experience could have prepared the man for an incident as dangerous and tragic as the blowouts on Deepwater Horizon in April 2010.

Like many other crew members, Harrell only found out about the gas leak through the system once its effects had started to take hold among the crew members. Harrell was in his stateroom in the shower when the highly combustible gas led to explosions. Consequently, the insulation scraps that attacked Harrell left the man partially blinded while the gas obstructed his breathing. Even so, the man was able to take relative control of the situation and helped other crew members in their evacuation.

Upon reaching the bridge, Harrell even gave commands to activate the Emergency Disconnect System— which would release the rig and seal the well. Prior to his arrival, initiating the same was a contested idea, with Chief Engineer Bertone having reported a worker’s insistence that they needed Harrell’s approval to go through with the EDS. Even so, the fail-safe remained unsuccessful. Afterward, he was able to evacuate on one of the two lifeboats, which took him to the safety of a Damon Bankston supply boat. In the end, Harrell managed to survive the grave incident and played a crucial role in saving a few lives.

Jimmy Wayne Harrell Passed Away in 2021

After surviving the blowouts aboard Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010, many other battles lay ahead for Jimmy Harrell. Initially, after Transocean began conversations about shutting the rig down, Harrell remained unhappy with the decision but denied claims of “heated debates” over the matter. Furthermore, as the rig’s supervisor, the man remained a significant part of the federal case that ensued in the disaster’s wake.

Jimmy Harrell// Image Credit: WWLTV

According to Harrell’s lawyer, Pat Fanning, federal prosecutors wanted to encourage the man into admitting criminal negligence and testifying against BP rig bosses. In Fanning’s words, “I said, Jimmy, you’ll have to go into court and swear an oath and then testify that you were negligent. If you don’t, they’re [the court] going to charge you with 11 counts of manslaughter and gross negligence.” Nonetheless, after praying over the decision on the weekend, Harrell came to the conclusion that he couldn’t plead guilty for something he didn’t do.

Ultimately, the court never charged Harrell with anything. In the aftermath, the man continued working in the oil industry under Transocean, where he had worked for decades. Yet, he always carried the weight of the past with him. As per his family’s account, the man battled PTSD, with the disaster having left him forever changed. Furthermore, he also sustained physical damage from the explosion, with fiberglass having been embedded in his skin. Likewise, the effects of the harmful gas stayed with him, leading to health complications.

Still, Harrell found some comfort in the outdoors, engaging in hunting and fishing— even kindling a love for the former in his son, Ryan. Likewise, the man enjoyed vacations with his family, content to be in the mountains with his son and wife, Michelle. Despite his cancer diagnosis, Harrell wanted to be there for Ryan on his wedding day. Unfortunately, after a difficult, yearlong battle with cancer, Harrell passed away at the age of 65 on May 10, 2021, in Morton, Mississippi.

Read More: Mike Williams: Where is the Deepwater Horizon Chief Technician Now?