Lake Peigneur

The incident at Lake Peigneur is one of those events that defies belief. Had I, or anyone for that matter, proposed such an incident in a novel, it would be considered preposterous, simply unbelievable.  And yet it happened.

On November 20, 1980, which was my … well let’s just say, one of my birthdays, this fantastic event occurred.  In three hours, a lake containing three and a half billion gallons of water was completely drained!  It was like someone removed a huge stopper from a gigantic sink.  How did it happen?


If you are out and about today, Saturday, October 18th, please stop by Southern Bound Book Shop, at Pass Rd and Eisenhower in Biloxi, where I will be signing my recently released 4th book, “Tears of Coral,” from 1-4p.m.


If you’ve read any of my three most recent novels, you know that my passion is writing fiction that is set in places where some bizarre or unusual event has occurred.  From lost nuclear weapons, to the worst man-made environmental disaster on the planet, to being captured by Somali pirates, I enjoy researching compelling historical events or even current events, and then using these as the backdrops for my work.  That’s why I find the disaster at Lake Peigneur so compelling.

On that November day, a crew of twelve men were operating a multimillion dollar Texaco rig drilling for oil in the ten ft deep Lake Peigneur near New Iberia, Louisiana.  They had reached a depth of just over 1200 feet when disaster struck.  Their drill bit was stuck.  As they attempted to free it, they heard some loud popping sounds and the rig began to tilt as if it were capsizing.

While they had no idea what was happening, the crew wisely abandoned the rig and fled to shore, some 300 yards away.  There they watched in shocked amazement as their massive rig disappeared into the shallow lake, defying logic.  Unbeknownst to the crew, the rig was positioned incorrectly and their drill bit had inadvertently penetrated an operating salt mine where some 55 miners were actively employed.

Once the 14 inch diameter drill stem penetrated the ceiling of the salt mine, high pressure water began to flood in, rapidly enlarging the hole. The miners fled for their lives, and considering that their only means of escape was a slow-moving, eight man elevator, it’s remarkable that they all survived.

Meanwhile, on the surface a gigantic whirlpool formed, sucking everything around it into the hole.  This included the oil rig, eleven barges, another nearby drilling rig, a barge loading dock, trucks, trees, and 70 acres of land.  As the 1300 acre lake was emptied, it reversed the flow of the Delcambre Canal, and a tug headed for the Gulf of Mexico, along with the aforementioned barges were sucked backwards into the lake and then down into the massive hole.
Over the next two days, as the resulting crater filled with saltwater from the Delcambre Canal, Vermillion Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico, a 164 ft waterfall, the largest in the State of Louisiana, formed.  A 400 ft tall geyser gushed from the entrance to the salt mine.  Eventually, 9 of the 11 barges popped back to the surface of the lake like toys in a giant bathtub.
When it was over, the 10 ft deep freshwater body became a 1300 ft deep saltwater lake, permanently changing the biology of the area.  This is a link to a video on Lake Peigneur you might find intriguing.  Enjoy, and look for it in one of my upcoming novels!

Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.

Invite Frank to speak to your next conference, corporate retreat or club meeting. Ask about having his speaker's fee waived when you purchase his latest novel for each of your attendees!


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