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Blowout device reaches surface

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO - A crane hoisted a key piece of oil spill evidence to the surface of the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, giving investigators their first chance to personally scrutinize the blowout preventer, the massive piece of equipment that failed stop the gusher four months ago.

It took 291/2 hours to lift the 50-foot, 300-ton blowout preventer from a mile beneath the sea to the surface. The five-story high device looked largely intact with black stains on the yellow metal.

FBI agents were among the 137 people aboard the Helix Q4000 vessel, taking photos and video of the device. They will escort it back to a NASA facility in Louisiana for analysis.

The AP was the only news outlet with a print reporter and photographer on board the ship.

Crews had been delayed after icelike crystals – called hydrates – formed on the blowout preventer. The device couldn’t be safely hoisted from the water until the hydrates melted because the hydrates are combustible.

Hydrates form when gases such as methane mix with water under high pressure and cold temperatures. The crystals caused BP PLC problems in May, when hydrates formed on a 100-ton, four-story dome the company tried to place over the leak to contain it.

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