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Russian oil platform capsizes

MOSCOW (AP) — Rescue workers are searching for 49 men in freezing, remote waters off Russia’s east coast after their oil rig capsized and sank amid fierce storms.

By nightfall Sunday, four men had been confirmed dead, 14 others had been plucked alive from the churning, icy waters by the ship that had been towing the Kolskaya drilling platform. But the search for the remaining men was hampered by freezing temperatures, a driving blizzard and strong winds.

Dmitry Dmitriyenko, governor of the Murmansk region in Russia’s northwest where 33 of the men come from, urged friends and families not to lose hope late Sunday, but admitted the chance of the men surviving in the 33.8 Fahrenheit water is approaching zero.

“This is a terrible disaster which took the crew unawares,” he said in a statement. “But there is still a chance.”

The Emergencies Ministry said that 67 people had been aboard the platform as it was being towed about 120 miles off the coast of Sakhalin, a large island just north of Japan in the Sea of Okhotsk in the western Pacific Ocean that until the late 19th century had been the Russian Empire’s most remote penal colony.

Of the 67 people aboard, 53 were crewmembers and 14 were workers and support staff, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Airplanes and helicopters patrolled the area Sunday, but called their search off just after sunset. Ministry officials said two boats will continue the search throughout the night.

The Transportation Ministry said the platform started sinking after a strong wave broke some of its equipment and the portholes in the crew’s dining room.

One 16-foot wave washed away its lifeboats, leaving the crew with no escape, and several hours later it sank.

There were no reports of environmental damage.

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