By: Shawn Moynihan
“I jump off the boat into the thickest, reddest patch of oil I’ve ever seen,” Associated Press video journalist Rich Matthews wrote of his plunge into the murky, oily waters of the Gulf of Mexico. “I open my eyes and realize my mask is already smeared. I can’t see anything and we’re just five seconds into the dive.”
So began the firsthand account of Matthews’ exploration into the polluted waters, a story that helped bring the destruction of the BP oil spill into sharper focus for many readers.
“My job as a journalist is to take people places they can’t go, and I take that seriously,” he says. “This was the opportunity to do that.”
Matthews is no stranger to dangerous situations, having covered hurricanes Katrina and Ike and the destruction wrought by the earthquake in Haiti. He got the OK from his AP superiors and on June 7, headed out with experienced spearfisherman Al Walker and AP photographer Eric Gay.
Being submerged in waters thick with oil quickly turned into a harrowing experience. About five seconds after he hit the water, Matthews says, “I did say to myself, ‘What am I doing out here?’
“It had a texture to it that I didn’t expect. It stuck to everything,” he says of the oil’s consistency. “It wasn’t just sticky, it was thick, almost like a putty, like a cake batter. It was a process, to get it off.”